Rookie specialists win competitions, turn focus toward Tennessee

Much of the last year for the Browns has been about launching new eras with bright futures ahead.

There’s the Baker Mayfield era, and the Freddie Kitchens era, which are one and the same, really. After the weekend’s roster moves, there’s a new era for the specialists, too.

Rookies Austin Seibert and Jamie Gillan outlasted veterans Greg Joseph and Britton Colquitt in training camp battles for the kicking and punting jobs, launching a youth movement and new beginning at the positions.

If his blemish-free final two preseason games weren’t enough evidence, Seibert received confirmation he’d made the team while driving to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to take in the Michigan-Middle Tennessee State college football game. He didn’t need to pull over to digest the news, but the fifth-round draft pick said Monday he did slow down a bit to process his accomplishment.

Gillan, meanwhile, found out he’d made the team while surrounded by Browns fans in a local bar.

Check out the best photos from the Cleveland Browns win over the Detroit Lions yesterday.

“I walked in and everybody kind of saw and knew who I was,” Gillan recalled Monday of his trip to The Flying Monkey Pub in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood. “Really nice people coming up and chatting to me and stuff. Got to meet a lot of the guys there, some of the regulars, and we’re just watching the Ohio (State) game and then as soon as I got off the phone, everybody was kind of looking at me like ‘what was that?’ 

“And I just kind of said, you know, ‘it looks like I’m playing Tennessee next week’ and everybody just started going crazy. It was really cool, it was good fun with them.”

Gillan grabbed the attention of Browns fans and football fans everywhere with his nickname, “The Scottish Hammer,” his flowing hair and his penchant for making open-field tackles while covering his own punts. Once an aspiring rugby player, the Inverness, Scotland, native turned to punting during his senior year of high school in Maryland and played at Arkansas-Pine Bluff on a scholarship that he accepted without even visiting the school. He ended up earning first-team all-conference honors while at Pine Bluff and notoriously deflated four footballs while preparing for the combine and a possible career in the NFL.

Browns special teams coach Mike Priefer sent Gillan more footballs ahead of their private workout, and after landing him as an undrafted free agent, Priefer will send Gillan out for punts on a weekly basis.

Check out photos from today's practice by team photographer Matt Starkey

Gillan made three tackles in the preseason and sent a couple of rockets off his left foot into the air at both Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium. He struggled somewhat in his first outing at FirstEnergy Stadium, but headed to his new home field during practice Monday to get in more work ahead of the Browns’ Week 1 game versus Tennessee.

Seibert joined Gillan in acclimating to the turf at FirstEnergy Stadium, a Kentucky Bluegrass field that is home to notoriously unpredictable winds. Former Browns kicker Phil Dawson recalled in early August moments in which the flags atop goal posts in the stadium would be pointing in opposite directions, and he’d be left to do nothing more than trust his leg. Seibert will have to adjust and learn how to play within the confines of the stadium perched on Lake Erie, but after a camp that had a healthy amount of struggles for the rookie, he appears equipped to battle through future adversity.

“I started out a little rough in camp. When you start out a little rough, the only thing you can do is go out there and try and get better every day and try and figure out what you’re doing wrong,” Seibert explained Monday. “When it came to the team periods and things like that and I’d miss a kick, my goal is to make the next one. And I accomplished that on a lot of those kicks that I’d miss, I’d make the next one. So that’s just building strides into the rest of the two preseason games and all that. You’ve got to keep building and make the next kick.”

The two rookies’ accomplishment of making the roster is a little bit sweeter for them, though, because they share a bond forged through the entire experience leading up to this point. They’re both new guys who walked into high-pressure situations. They roomed during rookie minicamp. And they’ve spent camp working together, Seibert as kicker and Gillan as his holder, and are reaping the reward together, along with established veteran long-snapper Charley Hughlett.

Seibert revealed Monday they’re also ideal complements to each other.

“It’s definitely a different journey than what I had,” Seibert said. “For me, I’ve been kicking since I was seven. Jamie hopped into kicking when he was a senior in high school. He’s doing it just for the fun of it and I’ve always had the dream of playing in college, playing in the NFL. Jamie just wanted to get a scholarship to school, get his education paid for and it turns out, he’s good. He got drafted here and everything. 

“For him, he’s a little more laid back where I’m like ‘let’s roll.’ I think it’s good to have both sides of that.”

The pressure will return for both of them at one point or another. Here’s to hoping their differing personalities and last four months spent together keep them even-keeled as their jobs grow more important with each passing week.

The Browns' 53 man roster as of November 1, 2019.

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