Locker Room Report: 5 things you need to know about Thursday's Browns practice


Defensive approach will change this week

  • The phrase "pissed off" has come into focus this week for the Cleveland Browns defense. Defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil was proud of how his unit played in the second half against Tennessee, but 28 points in one half is unacceptable.
  • The Browns want to take the venom they are feeling for collectively underperforming and unleash it on the Steelers. The Cleveland defense is out to prove the hype that surrounded the unit all throughout the spring and summer is on the cusp of happening.  And you might see them play a different brand of football than we've seen.
  • "The message to the group this week is, 'Hey, let's cut it loose. Let's go play. Let's cut it loose. Let's go play. Let's not be scared to make a mistake. Let's go make plays,'" said O'Neil.
  • It's a simple philosophy: if the Browns are going to allow big plays on defense – which they plan on tightening up – then they need to create turnovers on their end, too.

Justin Gilbert still refining his technique

  • Justin Gilbert himself talked with confidence in the locker room. He knows if Joe Haden (hip) isn't able to suit up Sunday, this Steelers game could be the springboard that helps him reach the level the organization knows he can reach.
  • "I'm just continuing to work hard on the practice field," said Gilbert. "I've continued to work on my technique to do stuff that puts me in position to make plays."
  • Gilbert is openly pleased with how well fellow rookie K'Waun Williams played against Tennessee. Like coach Mike Pettine referenced earlier in the week, comparing Williams and Gilbert is like comparing an offensive guard to an offensive tackle. Williams is strictly a nickel cornerback while Gilbert plays on the outside.
  • "I'm not sure how he was undrafted," Gilbert said, referencing Williams. "I'm glad he's on our team."
  • Remember this: Gilbert was borderline dominant in the preseason against the Redskins when guarding Pierre Garcon. We wrote about it here. He has the tools to succeed.
  • The thing about coach Pettine and O'Neil's defensive system is the cornerbacks truly have to profoundly change some of the techniques they've been taught throughout college and even from other NFL coaching staffs. Cornerbacks in this system need to rely on the things they are coached more than pure athleticism.
  • "A lot of guys who are elite athletes can get away with a lot of stuff at the college level," said O'Neil about Gilbert and rookies in general. "Then you get into the NFL, and that guy is just athletic as you. He's just as talented as you. You've got to rely on your fundamentals and technique. It's just him being more consistent with his technique. He has flashed very good coverage skills at times during games, and then when he relies on some old habits and some old technique, that's when he gets himself into trouble."

John Hughes ready to make a big impact

  • When the Browns announced who was inactive Sunday morning against Tennessee and John Hughes saw his name on the list, he wasn't a happy camper.
  • "Being a competitor, If I wasn't upset or disappointed about not playing, then I wouldn't be here in the NFL today," said Hughes. "Yeah, I was disappointed but it made me want to work harder and keep getting better."
  • With Phil Taylor out after knee surgery and Billy Winn's status (quad) up in the air, Hughes will likely be a big part of the game plan. Remember, Hughes played in 15 games last season, piling up 34 tackles even as a gap control run-stopper. The Browns could certainly use some of those skills against Pittsburgh's multi-purpose weapon Le'Veon Bell.

Kyle Shanahan gives an offensive update

  • Reporters love it when coaches drop factoids on them, and Shanahan did so in his Thursday afternoon press conference. Against the Titans, the Browns averaged 5.8 yards per play when they huddled and 5.8 yards per play when they went no-huddle.
  • "It's a feel thing," said Shanahan about when the Browns could change the tempo. "No-huddle hurt us versus Baltimore and New Orleans, and it was great versus Pittsburgh the game before. Nothing's an absolute in this league. You've got to mix it up all the time."
  • The best thing about Brian Hoyer? We don't exactly know where his ceiling could be. Right now the 28-year-old is on pace for 24 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
  • "I think it's a mystery to everybody because he hasn't played a lot of games," Shanahan said about Hoyer's upside. "He's played four this year, and I think he's gotten better in each game. I always will say you get better or worse, and if he continues to get better each week I think we're going to have a pretty good quarterback when it's all said and done."
  • The Browns do plan on using all three running backs, but again, like the no-huddle, it will be a feel thing. Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery typically handles all the substitutions at the position, and has done a glowing job thus far.

Travis Benjamin still working on punt returns

  • Why we love football: in the third quarter of the Titans game, Benjamin's muffed punt looked like it might cost the Browns the game. Instead, his number 11 jersey will be located in the Hall of Fame until the end of time.
  • Right after Benjamin's fumble when the Titans were set to re-punt the ball, there's a little anecdote that floored special teams coordinator Chris Tabor on Sunday.
  • "He came right up to me and said, 'Coach, put me out there,'" said Tabor. "He had confidence in wanting to go back out there. Then being able to step up on the offense and make those two touchdowns – that says a lot about the kid. That's why I'm so encouraged that he'll work through this thing right here with regards to the punt returns and get right back on track."
  • Benjamin has been staying late on the practice field to catch 100 punts each day. Remember, he was drawing Devin Hester comparisons last season. It's not far-fetched to think his offensive resurgence could help him on special teams.
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