We have but one open practice left for 2019 #BrownsCamp, and that's on Wednesday, which also means before we could get to the final one we first had to complete the one before the final one. That middle child of a practice arrived Tuesday.
It was again hot, but the Browns had a solid day that also again ended in pushups. The staff has started this competition that lasts all of one play between the offense and defense. Whichever unit succeeds on the play enjoys the luxury of watching the opposing unit do push-ups -- assistants included.
On Tuesday, it was Todd Monken and Stump Mitchell doing push-ups. You can guess who won that competition.
Here are our observations from Day 18 of #BrownsCamp.
1. Derrick Willies resurfaces
Derrick Willies was the leading standout of the first half of camp, but as time has passed, his play has remained steady but his teammates have evened the pace.
Tuesday, he resurfaced as a player who could make important contributions to this team.
Willies was all over the field, making catch after catch. His grabs came between defenders and over defenders, a product of precise route-running and a beneficiary of having the biggest receiver frame on the team. He caught his receptions in the end zone, running deep outs, flag routes, skinny posts and drags. He did it all and reminded us of who will likely be on this team.
Check out photos from the eighteenth day of Browns Camp by team photographer Matt Starkey
2. Receivers beneath the top three will be just fine
We already discussed Willies, but Tuesday was the second straight strong day for Damion Ratley, who is impressing after missing most of camp with a hamstring injury. Ratley dropped one pass but caught a handful of others, and his natural, physical abilities -- acceleration and hand-eye coordination -- just seem to stand out more than other bottom-half receivers.
At one point, Ratley took an end around to the left, turned upfield and ran through a lane of defenders before slowing up 20 yards later. As he ran through the group, an audible pop could be heard, as if a shoe had been kicked.
Ratley slowed up because his shoe was loose. Twenty-five yards downfield, back near where he had sliced through the lane, laid Ratley's shoelace, somehow completely removed from his right shoe. He removed both and walked back up the field in socks before eventually putting on a fresh pair of cleats.
Receiver Jaelen Strong, meanwhile, made another beautiful play, catching a touchdown pass over the shoulder with one hand before clutching it with the other as he fell to the turf. The photo attached to this story is from that catch.
3. Key depth returning
A quick note: We mentioned Ratley's return yesterday, which could prove to be valuable in the long run.
Also valuable: the return of Dontrell Hilliard, who was back in pads on Tuesday after sitting out most of the last week due to an injury sustained in Indianapolis. Tavierre Thomas, who has been out for quite some time, was back as well Tuesday and playing cornerback.
The Browns haven't tackled to the ground this week and are in more of a game-preparation mode than grind-through-camp mode. We might see more guys return fairly soon.
4. Line rotation getting even wilder
We saw this briefly Monday, but it was slightly more prevalent on Tuesday: backup tackle Kendall Lamm is seeing reps at right guard.
It's not a reason to sound the alarm, offensive line coach James Campen said after practice Tuesday. It's simply a way to find out what kind of versatility the Browns have in their offensive linemen. After all, they have to pare this roster down to 53 men in a little over a week.
"You have to be prepared for guys that are in different positions and those type of things," Campen said. "We have done some things in closed practices too and those things on a competitive advantage for ourselves. But I am not disappointed at all."
In speaking individually with Campen later, he reiterated the importance of versatility in a sport that will only allow an NFL team to bring seven or eight active linemen to the field each week due to roster limits. He reflected on how he's twice been down to just five healthy, active linemen -- there are five starting positions on the line, meaning depth officially hit zero in those instances -- and even had to bring a defensive tackle over to the offensive line to finish an NFC Championship Game in his career.
Knowing who can do what is key to this team, well beyond knowing who will fill out its starting five.
5. Safety first
It was a good day for the safeties of the Browns defense.
As rotations get more interesting and less stratified -- Drew Stanton playing with the first team, Baker Mayfield taking snaps behind the third-team line, for example -- we see some intriguing matchups. That's what led to a Damarious Randall interception of David Blough in the back of the end zone with the offense threatening to score.
It also produced a fantastic play made by J.T. Hassell, who dove to intercept a pass that had sailed over the head of Pharaoh Brown.
I wrote about Eric Murray yesterday and his good week or so of work. It seems as though the good energy is spreading among the safeties, who are gradually improving as this camp nears its close.