Fresh Takes from Training Camp

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Fresh Takes: Observations from Day 4 of Browns training camp

The Browns' motto in 2019 and beyond -- especially in the team's 2020 redesign -- is "Nothing Fancy."

Perhaps the coaching staff should consider adding "nothing foolish" to it.

Sunday's practice saw a few avoidable mistakes, including one that landed the players on the sideline for a little bit of a mental reminder of what not to do when between the lines. Instead of football, fans were treated to a front row seat for conditioning.

Here are our five observations from Day 4 of #BrownsCamp.

Check out photos from the fourth day of Browns Camp by team photographer Matt Starkey

1. A good session goes sideways

Sunday was a productive day on the field through the majority of practice. The offense seemed to fix its issues from the previous day and was carrying over some of the momentum gained from its impressive finish to Saturday's session. Practice had a crisp pace, mental errors were scarce and the competition was strong. Both units were battling.

Then, the competition boiled over. We had our first skirmish of camp.

The culprits: defensive end Chad Thomas and tight end Pharaoh Brown, with Thomas serving as the primary aggressor. The initial scrum lasted for close to 30 seconds, with tight end Orson Charles attempting to separate the two before linebacker Christian Kirksey walked Thomas off the field. It was late in the practice, and head coach Freddie Kitchens was not OK with the time wasted.

He sent the entire team to the sideline to run half-gassers -- sideline to sideline and back -- and made sure Thomas returned to the field to run with his teammates.

Each group ran three half-gassers before the team convened for a huddle and then returned to the practice agenda. The whole process ate up about 10 minutes of time.

Veteran defensive end Olivier Vernon wasn't surprised that a fight broke out -- that's the nature of football camp -- but he did say Sunday was a first for him.

"O-line, D-line, we're always going to battle it out," Vernon said. "There's always going to be words exchanged. It's training camp. Ain't nothing changed, it's been like that since the prehistoric times. Guys are going to get into it, they're going to bark at each other. That's how it is. It's football."

But Sunday was a first for the seven-year veteran.

"That's my first time (running because of a fight)," Vernon said. "Different. Freddie, he don't want us doing anything dumb. He wants us practicing hard but practicing smart. You know, that's what it is. We've just got to take ownership of that."

The fight will be forgotten a day from now, if not sooner. Scuffles are part of the mentally and physically grueling experience that is a training camp. It's not for the meek.

"It's still camp, it's still football, like I said it's an emotional game," defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi said. "All of us have egos in some way, shape or form. Sometimes it's gonna happen. You've just gotta take it, because it's camp."

But the running, in front of thousands of fans on a picturesque Sunday in Berea, is indeed different. It's part of a no-nonsense approach taken by Kitchens, who seems like a jovial, friendly guy but also takes everything on the field incredibly seriously. He sends flag-drawing linemen on a run to the nearest wall, and he'll send his whole team 53 1/3 yards and back if they make mistakes.

"We just don't practice penalties," Kitchens explained Sunday, "and like I told you guys the other day, if you do something wrong in life, there's consequences."

"We're gonna be in shape," Vernon said. "I'll tell you that."

2. A good day for Austin Corbett

Sunday was the first big day for Austin Corbett in the ongoing battle for the open right guard position.

The rotation at the spot kicked off with Corbett running with the starters, but he wasn't in pads. Those began Saturday with Eric Kush getting the first-team reps.

When it flipped back over to Corbett, the pads were on. And Corbett impressed.

While the defense threw a variety of blitzes at the interior front three -- watching Joel Bitonio and JC Tretter pass off twisting linemen is a treat -- Corbett remained stout. Never was Corbett completely beaten, and even if he lost off the snap, he managed to recover in time to protect Baker Mayfield. He was also effective in the run game, with the first play of the full-contact team period going for a Dontrell Hilliard touchdown off the right hip of Corbett.

It was an important performance for Corbett, who hadn't done anything to lose the job, but also hadn't gone out and taken control of it, either. It was encouraging, if not relieving to see Corbett play well Sunday. Should he string together a few of these sessions, he'd be in good shape to end up as the starter.

Beyond the starting job, Kush returned to second-team center with Kyle Kalis manning second-team guard and third-team center responsibilities. An interesting wrinkle new to camp was the shifting of Drew Forbes from left tackle to right guard and back. When he was at left tackle, Bryan Witzmann played right guard. When Forbes played right guard, Witzmann moved back to left guard, and Brad Seaton played left tackle.

It's clear the staff is tinkering with the line in an attempt to figure out its depth early in camp.

3. Defensive line learning each other

Much has been made of the Browns' offensive potential, but the winners early in camp have been the defensive linemen. They've caused plenty of issues for the offense and look to be the strongest position group on the defensive side of the ball, especially when strictly discussing starters.

Vernon and Myles Garrett are ferocious off the edge, Sheldon Richardson is a load and a half to handle inside -- just ask the Browns' interior offensive linemen -- and Ogunjobi might be the defense's best-kept secret. They seem to be adjusting to each other quicker than usual, too.

"It's good, we're just trying to build cohesiveness, building a bond and learning off each other," Vernon said Sunday. "That's typically how it goes in a D-line room. Just build chemistry."

Vernon's inclusion is interesting because he is flipping sides of the line with Garrett depending on the offense's strong side, something he called "just another challenge." Vernon is also returning to playing as a traditional defensive end after filling a 3-4 outside linebacker role in New York last season. That means more snaps with his hand in the dirt.

"We played a lot of Nickel last year," Vernon explained. "So I could've had my hand in the dirt a lot. It was just labeled as a 3-4. But it always feels good to have your hand in the dirt and rushing four guys, four dawgs. Let's get it."

A big point of emphasis on the subject from both Vernon and Ogunjobi was the freedom afforded to them by defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, which then allows them to play off each other. That was emphasized by each player Sunday, which should excite fans. Players with such talent being given space to do what they deem is best should create more positive plays for this defense.

4. Rough go for kickers

There was a consistent breeze Sunday that made the conditions pleasant for those in attendance, but more difficult for those kicking.

Austin Seibert and Greg Joseph both struggled during field goal sessions, with Joseph hitting more field goals in the special teams portion, and neither hitting a situational field goal at the end of practice with the Browns facing a hypothetical 2-point deficit.

Kitchens wasn't too concerned with their play afterward. It's early in camp.

"Listen, when you're a kicker, you better have a short memory," Kitchens said. ... "If you're playing for us, all of the positions, because we're going to play the next play. That's the only one that matters. I'm not concerned about that kick, I'm worried about the one tomorrow."

To each of their credit, when warming up at the start of practice, each hit at least one kick on the extremely narrow goal posts set up on Field 2, which is very difficult to do.

5. Team playing with passion

Kitchens emphasized repeatedly during the offseason how important it was to him that his players are passionate about football and play the game with passion. He's getting plenty of that so far.

The defense and offense have quite a rivalry going early in camp, with the defenders (unsurprisingly, Damarious Randall chiefly among them) talking plenty of trash to the offense and vice versa. The defense got a boost late in practice when Mayfield completed a pass to Jarvis Landry, who made a man miss and looked to be off to the races when Joe Schobert swooped in from behind and knocked the ball out of Landry's arm. Jermaine Whitehead recovered the fumble, ending the first team's chance to get in position to kick a hypothetical game-winning field goal.

Words were exchanged as the units left the field -- and this was after the fight had happened.

This type of energy is important because despite its conflicting nature, it'll help this group when they have to band together and take on an actual opponent in the regular season. In the meantime, they're competing and making each other better on a daily basis.

Kitchens even applauded Thomas and Brown, saying the two "were making each other better" when the fight broke out. He likes the passion; he just wants it directed through better channels.

And teammates aren't as upset about running as one might think, because they understand the message sent by Kitchens. They're all out to play with passion without penalties.

"Same thing like in high school and college," Ogunjobi said. "It is annoying and you do not want to do it, but at the end of the day if it happens to you, it is the same result. And as brothers, sometimes your brother makes a mistake and nobody makes a mistake on purpose, but sometimes when you get a penalty the whole team pays for it and that is just an example of that. So being able to just bounce back from it and have to finish practice and still focus and still have a job to do. I feel like it does a good job for the team so it is cool."

The annual Orange & Brown Scrimmage will take place on August 3rd at FirstEnergy Stadium. Click for information and tickets.

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