The Browns broke training camp Tuesday morning, ending what has been something of a debut for a new-and-improved team that hopes to put on a good showing later this week against the Eagles.
Indeed, Cleveland hosts the Super Bowl champions in Thursday night's "dress rehearsal" game; Philadelphia, of course, should serve as something of a measuring stick for these new Browns.
"I just said that to the guys," head coach Hue Jackson said after practice, "What better way to have a dress rehearsal game. It gives us a chance to go out and measure where we are and really go play good football. I think that our guys to a man are excited about the opportunity."
While the Eagles will be without star quarterback Carson Wentz (knee), the Browns — who overhauled their roster after the franchise's first winless season — will be able to see how far they've come and how far they still need to go.
"We have done some things that are good in the past two preseason games, there are definitely some areas that we can clean up in. That is what we aim to do," starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. "Clean up those areas and take the next step."
— Taylor and Cleveland's starters on both sides of the ball will play roughly a half, Jackson said. "They will play longer than they played the other night," he said. "I doubt if I play them in the second half. Obviously, I reserve the right to stick them back out there if need be. I think that the guys know what I am looking for is just improvement. We just have to keep getting better each and every time that we go out. I saw that the last time." The Browns (1-1) are coming off a loss to Buffalo on Friday.
— Taylor's understudy, Baker Mayfield, will play "quite a bit" as the rookie quarterback continues what's been a strong preseason. "I want him to play. He's going to play. That's for sure," Jackson said. Mayfield, the first-overall pick in the NFL Draft, has demonstrated that talent since coming to Cleveland. He's currently working with the second-team offense.
— Josh Gordon could return to the practice field sooner than later. The wide receiver, who reunited with the Browns on Saturday following a leave of absence to focus on his physical and emotional well-being, is still getting re-acclimated after almost a month away from the team. Jackson said he expects clarity on Gordon can practice "very soon" and "the most important thing for Josh is let's make sure that he is in great shape and in a great place." If that happens, Jackson said he won't hold back Gordonfrom playing against the Lions in the preseason finale. "If there is a chance against Detroit at the end, it would be great," he said. "If not, my real goal is can we get him up and running by the time that we play Pittsburgh? I think that's really important."
— Jackson praised second-year tight end David Njoku among a slew of young up-and-coming players who are starting to come into form. Njoku, the 29th overall pick in 2017, has flashed moments of dominance following a slow start to camp. He caught two passes for two touchdowns in a win over the Giants two weeks ago, something the Browns hope is a harbinger of things to come. "That's what we want David to become. I thought that last week he blocked extremely well. That is tough," he said. "I don't think that people still recognize that he's still a young player. He's playing against some grown men at defensive end and has to block those guys play in and play out at 255 pounds, is hard. He has taken that challenge on, and I think that he has done a great job in that way."
Jackson also singled out rookie cornerback Denzel Ward, the former Ohio State star and fourth-overall pick, as a "very, very talented" player who will have his hands full this fall against some of the league's best receivers. "He has to play a lot of football," he said. "The pressure of handling that, we won't know until we do it."
The same goes for Mayfield, who has been impressive in "handling everything from the media to his teammates to all of the expectations and all of that, I think that he has been outstanding," Jackson said. "I can't say that enough. He's handling all of this the right way, and I think that is very, very important for his future and what he is trying to accomplish."
— Since training camp opened in July, the "Hard Knocks" cameras have captured just about everything the Browns have been through. That includes a stern conversation with rookie receiver Antonio Callaway, who was cited for marijuana possession and a suspended license earlier this month. Jackson and general manager John Dorsey sat down with the youngster from Florida and laid out their expectations in no unclear terms. Jackson hopes it was a wake-up call for Callaway, a gifted player who's struggled with off-field mishaps in the past.
"Here's a young player and I want him to get off to the right start, not the wrong one. That's important," he said. "A player that comes here wants to prove that he wants to be here. When things happen that way, you have to handle it right for his future and for the organization, as well. I think that we did that. I think he's remorseful for what he did. I think that he understands everything that comes with that, and that there's a chance that you can't be here; that you have to do it right. That is the message that I send to any young player. We will work with you if you will be honest and upfront, but we have no tolerance for B.S."