Minicamp is complete, and the Browns are headed home for a little summer relaxation.
That doesn’t mean preparation for 2019 is going to stop any time soon. But before we break out the sunscreen and ice up the cooler, the Browns had one final practice Thursday. It rained (again), so everything moved indoors for the second straight day. Here are five observations from the last minicamp session.
Check out photos from the last day of Browns Minicamp
1. The thrill of desperation
Thursday's final practice wasn't as intense as the first two, but it did offer some worthy entertainment.
Faced with a late-game situation, the Browns ran through their hurry-up offense before setting up at the 20 for one final play. A quick toss to the left side of the field resulted in three laterals capped by a longer backward pass to Ishmael Hyman. The receiver caught the ball and suddenly had some space in front of him, with coaches shouting for him to get upfield.
Most notably, offensive line coach James Campen was screaming at Kyle Kalis to get moving so he could create a seal for Hyman. Kalis did so, albeit without actual contact, opening a lane through which Hyman had plenty of room to run. He did that, until he reached the five and fumbled the ball.
It bounced forward into the end zone before Hyman recovered it. The offense, rejoicing at what they thought was a completed series of laterals for a score, motioned to confirm the touchdown. The officials working practice conferred before ultimately ruling the ball dead short of the end zone. Tight end Orson Charles ran over to argue, as did receiver Rashard Higgins, who playfully told the officials "I think we need to go to the booth."
"It wasn't forward, it was backward!" Charles exclaimed. Moments later, he laughed the whole thing off while admitting Hyman fumbled the ball forward.
The second unit's chance to make some magic came much easier and from a shorter distance. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert scrambled right and tossed a lateral to Dontrell Hilliard in an improvised speed option play. Hilliard scored with ease as a flag fell to the turf nearby.
The call? A crackback block, ruled entirely illegal in the NFL starting this season. This time, the entire offense was incensed.
"It can't be a crackback, we don't even have pads on!" Baker Mayfield exclaimed.
Hard to argue with that one.
The offense overall had a better day, though the practice wasn't quite as fast (and ended earlier than scheduled). They did start to find their way through the tall grass of the Browns' defense, though, which was an issue on the first two days.
2. Ishmael Hyman receives praise
Speaking of Hyman, he finished off a productive offseason by getting plenty of reps with the first team, all the way through the final minicamp practice. His presence has become more noticeable thanks to increased attention paid to the offense. While eyes seek No. 13, they often also land on No. 16.
"Ishmael has done a good job," Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. "He came in and worked his tail off. He looks different now than he did at the beginning of phase two. And he knows more know than he did before phase one. So, he has done a great of keeping his head down and keep working. He is getting better. I think a bunch of those guys have gotten better and that is what we want to see. We just want to see little increases every day."
Hyman, like the rest of the lesser-known receivers, will have an uphill battle to make the team, but as Kitchens said Thursday, he's doing everything right in his pursuit of a roster spot.
3. Ice up, it's going to be physical
Kitchens said Thursday it's too early to identify what the identity of this team is. Anyone who has watched it so far can say it's talented, but the coach wants more than talent. He wants toughness.
"I want to be the most physical team on the field," Kitchens said. "I want to play great defense, I want to move the ball and I want to be great on special teams. So that kinds of sums it up. Now, in saying all that, these guys have to decide what they want the identity to be. I know what we are going to push and press for. And the identity is going to be knowing what to do, knowing when to do it and knowing how to do it. In everything that we do, do it physically."
Physical play is essentially nonexistent in the spring, at least according to what the rules state. There aren't any pads, and coaches are constantly advising players to "stay up" when inadvertent contact does happen. It's a very common part of spring ball, but it makes it difficult to judge how physical a team might be.
Looking at the personnel helps, though. Sheldon Richardson was described by NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal and Chris Wesseling as a "rent-a-Hulk" in their Top 101 Free Agents of 2019 list in February. He is a physical presence, as is Myles Garrett. Sione Takitaki made waves with his own brand of physical play at BYU. This group should be as physical as Kitchens hopes. We'll see if that comes to fruition in August.
4. Staying healthy
Of course, a team can't play a physical brand of football if it isn't healthy enough to do so. The health, safety and well-being of their players are always on the minds of Kitchens, his assistants and the training staff. On Thursday, that meant limited work for Odell Beckham Jr. and Duke Johnson, among others.
"It is more preventive than anything," Kitchens said afterward. "Just more preventive than anything. Everything is okay with them. We do not play any games in the spring and I am not being funny, it goes back to our voluntary issue. Even when they are here and it is mandatory, we are going make sure that we take care of our players until they start counting. That does not mean that they are (not) going to work their ass off when they are here. But we are not going to be stupid. We are going to take care of our guys when they are here."
Meanwhile, cornerback T.J. Carrie went down with an apparent injury and grabbed his knee before limping off. He eventually walked out of the indoor facility into the weight room and didn't return. Kitchens did not have an update on Carrie's condition afterward.
5. Summer vacation
Jhavonte Dean has to feel good going into his summer vacation. The tryout signee who earned his shot by intercepting two passes during rookie minicamp closed mandatory minicamp with a nice interception of his own in the end zone.
Dean is a player who has good eyes and a nose for the ball. We wrote more about his story last month. And as Dean leaves for the summer, so goes the rest of the roster, off to enjoy six weeks of a break before training camp ramps up and the cameras find themselves permanent positions surrounding all things Cleveland Browns.
Consider it a bit of quiet before the monsoon season. Kitchens is spending his with his family -- and some horses.
"I know I am not going to leave Cleveland too much in the summer because it is beautiful," Kitchens said with a smile. "I am not really sure yet. I know I will go to a few horse shows with my daughters. I am looking forward to that. This has not been the normal spring for them. I have some time to make up with them and my wife."
The Browns will return for training camp in late July. We'll have plenty of content for you in between, so don't stop checking ClevelandBrowns.com in the meantime.