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Fresh Takes from Training Camp

Fresh Takes: Observations from Day 9 of Browns training camp

It looked similar to what we've seen in Berea, but Saturday was most definitely not in Berea.

The Browns boarded the buses and headed north to their home along the shore of Lake Erie for the first time in the 2019 preseason. Thousands of fans lined up outside the gates three hours before the scheduled start in anticipation of their first glimpse of the 2019 Browns -- and they were not disappointed.

Here are our observations from Day 9 of #BrownsCamp -- this time, from FirstEnergy Stadium.

1. Young linebackers steadily improving

A day after making the most athletic play of training camp, Mack Wilson continued to build on his positive momentum, intercepting another pass during 7-on-7s.

The best part? Wilson completed the interception, made on the other side of the 50, by running down the sideline through the goal line. The fans ate it up, cheering with escalating volume as his stride got him closer to the pylon.

Wilson and fellow rookie Sione Takitaki had good practices Saturday, with Takitaki flying in off the edge on one particular play and nearly blowing up a running play that was going away from him. He pounded the ground in frustration afterward, knowing how close he'd come to a tackle for loss. Ultimately, the play went for no gain.

Takitaki has consistently played well since he was scolded for playing too hard in the shorts and jerseys portion of camp. Wilson has really started to come on strong in the last 48 hours. If both continue on this path upward, the Browns might suddenly find themselves with seriously enviable depth at linebacker.

2. A standout Brown for the Browns

With Demetrius Harris and Seth DeValve sidelined due to concussions, Pharaoh Brown has seen additional playing time, even appearing with the first team for good chunks of time in the last two days. He made the most of it Saturday, catching multiple passes throughout the practice, including two on a drive that saw the first-team offense finish in the end zone.

The best part: He's the one who scored the touchdown, running a flag route down the seam, bending it away from the hash inside the 5-yard line and catching a well-placed Baker Mayfield pass in the end zone.

"Pharaoh's just like everybody else. He's trying to work and get better," Kitchens said. "He's not a finished product but he's definitely in the competition and he's gonna keep working."

Brown is in a loaded tight end group, but he's taking advantage of this unexpected opportunity, coming a long way from the huge tight end who struggled to make contested grabs to one who's becoming rather sure-handed.

3. Kicking on the upswing

Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer made it clear earlier in the week: These kickers, no matter their struggles so far, would be tested in front of 30,000-plus fans Saturday.

For the most part, they answered the call.

Greg Joseph went a perfect 5-for-5 in the kicking session, and Austin Seibert hit 3-of-5 attempts. In game situations later, Joseph drilled a 51-yarder, while Seibert converted a 33-yarder. Priefer said Thursday he tends to put more stock in situational kicks -- meaning both passed that test Saturday -- because of the pressure associated. But with more than 30,000 fans waiting to see who the answer might be for their Browns at kicker, all of those kicks came with pressure.

Still, we're far from learning who will end up handling those duties in the regular season.

"It's strictly a day-by-day until we have to decide," Kitchens said after practice.

4. Receivers continue battling

Fans got their helping of passes to Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry on Saturday as expected, especially early in 11-on-11 action, but the efforts of two lesser-known receivers jumped out.

It comes as no surprise that one of those receivers is Derrick Willies, a 6-foot-4 target Kitchens described as "rangy" after practice. He continues to do exactly what Kitchens wants out of his players, which is play with consistency. Willies has been the same day in and day out throughout this camp and is building a strong case for the final 53.

"He has been working every day," Mayfield said of Willies after practice Saturday. "He is showing he really wants it with the hours he is putting in. It is not just the bare minimum, you can tell he was working in the offseason and he showed up ready for camp. Now he has to just continue to study the playbook, we have everything installed now, and he just has to go out there and consistently do it at a high level."

The other is Jaelen Strong, a former third-round pick of the Texans who was out of the league in 2018 due to an ACL injury and has spent this offseason remaking his body in order to become a quicker, more durable target. It seems to be working, as he's making plenty of contested catches and is quietly stringing together solid practices.

He also had a highlight grab Saturday:

The competition for these spots continues to be fierce, but like a good student knows, add enough star stickers to your column on the chart and after a while, you'll start to get noticed.

5. Get 2 School launch

Over 30,000 tickets were sold for Saturday's event at FirstEnergy Stadium with all proceeds going to the Cleveland Browns Foundation's Get 2 School program, which focuses on eliminating barriers that cause chronic absenteeism in students with the goal of increasing their chances of success by regularly attending school.

Prior to the Orange & Brown Scrimmage, the Foundation held a launch event for the Get 2 School program, which began as a partnership with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District but is now going statewide with the hopes of positively impacting as many students as possible. Along with owner Dee Haslam, Browns alumnus Michael Lehan, a 2003 draft pick of the team, returned to the stadium for the event to speak about his experiences as a school administrator and emphasized the importance of good attendance to the students assembled at the event.

Lehan's message was inspiring and helped kick off the expansion of the program, which benefitted from those attending the scrimmage Saturday. To read more about the event and the program, click here.

The Browns have an off day Sunday before returning for their first game week. The team will host the Washington Redskins at FirstEnergy Stadium on Thursday night.

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