Training Camp

Gary Barnidge doesn't need label to know his role in Browns offense

Gary Barnidge made it clear after Monday's practice: He's tuning out the hype about his lack of hype.

Over the past few months, the Browns tight end has learned he has some of the statistically surest hands in the NFL, his quarterback thinks he's "sneaky fast" and his coach called him "very underrated." None of that has crossed his mind throughout a training camp at which he's routinely made big plays in the passing game thanks to all of the above attributes.

"Every year I'm categorized as one thing or another, one years as receiver, one year as a blocker," Barnidge said. "I don't really get into all that kind of stuff, I'm just going out there and doing my job just like the rest of our tight ends are, got to do what coaches ask."

Barnidge, 29, is coming off his second consecutive season with 13 receptions. He's compiled far more than that during 11-on-11 sessions of the Browns' first 10 training camp practices, often finding openings in the middle of the field when he's guarded by linebackers and safeties.

It's gone beyond short and intermediate routes, too, as he caught a long throw from Josh McCown during Friday's scrimmage and rumbled 47 yards for the biggest play of the night. On Monday, he got behind a linebacker and caught a deep McCown pass over his shoulders for a play that drew some of the loudest cheers of the day from the 3,437 in attendance.

Barnidge took the attention off himself when he was asked about a potential expanded role within new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo's system. It wouldn't be just him, he said, as Jim Dray, Rob Housler and emerging undrafted free agent E.J. Bibbs all rotate into the spots where he's made plays and all have the capability to make the kind of catches he's snagged.

If the Browns, who often use multiple tight ends, were to use just one tight end, Barnidge currently would be the No. 1 option, coach Mike Pettine said.

"Gary is the ultimate professional," Pettine said. "He comes out and does his job, prepares well, very rarely has a mental mistake. I think he has a lot better hands than people give him credit for. From a measurable standpoint, he is a big target. Not the fastest guy but he is veteran enough to know how to get open."

Barnidge laughed when he was asked if he showed up to training camp in better shape than previous years because he's been the recent recipient of some razzing from his teammates for his "goofy" running style.

He's also taking some good-natured flack for a recent streak of his that came to light a few months back, when Pro Football Focus wrote about his 32 consecutive targets without a drop. On the rare occasions in which he drops a pass during practice, teammates have been quick to yell, "there goes your streak."

They're thinking about it more than Barnidge is, and that formula's worked just fine since the start of training camp.

"I don't really get into all that kind of stuff because you can't think about you," Barnidge said. "You just have to go out there and do what you do and you can't worry about any of that stuff."

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