Jim Donovan dropped by the Browns facility Monday to fill in for Nathan Zegura on Cleveland Browns Daily, and we didn't let him leave without answering a few of our questions.
The radio voice of the Browns since 1999 gave us his thoughts on the Browns' rookie class, the lack of a wide-open quarterback competition and more in our impromptu interview.
ClevelandBrowns.com: What storyline interests you most when the Browns open training camp?
Donovan: I'm really excited about seeing this draft class play. And I mean play. I'd like to see them on the field. I think everybody was very excited about the draft class last year, certainly at the top of it, but we never really got to see those guys get out there and play. I think this was kind of a common sense draft in the sense that, 'we have a problem stopping the run, let's go get a guy that can stop the run,' and so we get Danny Shelton. 'We need some help on the offensive line because we got thin there. Let's get Cam Erving. We need a pass rusher. Let's get Nate Orchard.' In seeing all these guys in the rookie class, I think it's important that when you're picking that high and you have multiple picks in rounds, those guys should play, and that's when you know you're drafting well. I think these guys have a chance to play. Whether it's all the time or it's significant times in games. I'm kind of anxious to see all of them and how they fit and I think you're going to walk away from it and say, 'boy, that draft class in that year was a real launch pad for them.'
CB.com: What do you see as the biggest difference from last year's training camp to this year's?
Donovan: I think that overall when you look at the field, you're not as perplexed at multiple positions and you say, 'do they have enough here, do they have enough there, do they have enough cornerbacks, do they have enough wide receivers, do they have enough at tight end?' I look at those positions now and say 'yeah, I think they do,' and then there are some areas where I think they're really good. I think they're really good in the secondary. I think the offensive line at its optimal health is really good and those are good things to be really good in. I think when I look at the overall scheme of everything, it looks like they have more talent across the field than I have ever seen them have in a long time.
CB.com: How important can training camp be for some of the team's under-the-radar players?
Donovan: There's always one or two that become the story of camp. I would say last year in a very brief bottle of time that poured out onto the field, I think Isaiah Crowell was late to the party but when he got to the party, you realized, 'wow, this guy is really so good that you can't hide him on a practice squad.' But Josh Cribbs I can remember coming out of nowhere and really becoming a significant player for them. There are always one or two guys that kind of bust out onto the scene. I would say Taylor Gabriel last year, K'Waun Williams last year kind of made it very, very interesting. I would definitely look at two guys who always seem to really, whether it's on special teams or a combination of making big plays on special teams and they go out at their regular positions and they do something that makes you turn your head, and you kind of start rooting for them a little bit. You see them late in the game of the first game and then more and more they play, I think that's always fun. I don't know if there are going to be as many here. I think the opportunities for those kinds of guys making the team were better in past years but I think this team, there aren't as many Cinderella stories.
CB.com: Does it feel weird not to have a wide open quarterback competition entering training camp?
Donovan: I think it does. Even when they would designate and say Brandon Weeden is going to be the quarterback, still, Brandon was winning it because of where they drafted him rather than how he played. I don't think you were ever comfortable just saying, 'that's our guy, we know for sure he's going to be the guy.' So, yeah, this is very, very different. I really had a very nervous feeling last year when I watched that play out. Brian Hoyer was coming back after the ACL injury. He had a decent first game, not a great second game, not a great third game and one drive in the fourth game and he's the guy. Johnny Manziel had some exciting plays but there were also some holes there. Connor Shaw actually went in and kind of mopped up well. No one really went out and grabbed it, and certainly not the guy that became your opening day starter. You just kind of named the guy because you had to. Yeah, I think this is a little more comforting knowing you have a guy that's been around the block a few times.
CB.com: Did McCown surprise you at all during OTAs?
Donovan: I really had never seen him play a lot, so yeah, I thought he had a great arm. But I thought the first thing that hit me was he was such a great team guy, which is funny to notice in practice but it's also good to notice in practice and you realize it's very real. He roots for everybody. He really does. He roots for the other quarterbacks, he certainly roots for a great play even made by a defensive back against him. I think he's a real team guy. I think he really wants this to work out. Here's a guy that's been around the league for a while, hasn't been on a lot of great teams, but when he comes here I think he takes a look at it and says 'boy, there's another opportunity for me to kind of become a great story and turn young talent with me guiding it into a winning team.' I think that's a really good feeling to see him. It's easy to root for him.
CB.com: Where does this defense rank among the ones you've seen since 1999?
Donovan: I think by far it's the best. There's no question it's the best. The Browns have at times, I think their defense has played well in games but never been able to finish the game and I realize you can say, 'well, the offense didn't do enough either,' but really the Browns defense has been in a position for a number of years to close games out, just make one play and the game is over, and they haven't been able to do that whether it's because they've been on the field too long leading up to that point or they just didn't have the right players in place. I think this team seems to be stocked with enough talent and with enough guys who know how to do it from their past NFL experiences that that's a really good blend. I think they were very close last year to becoming a really good defense. Again, they got a little worn out on the defensive line but I think that's got much more depth to it this year. I think their secondary was right up there at the top of the NFL. I think it's the best defense I've seen them have easily since 1999.