Last training camp and especially in the preseason, Browns undrafted rookies stole the show.
Isaiah Crowell gashed the Bears for 102 rushing yards. Cornerback Robert Nelson picked off a pass from Chicago quarterback David Fales. Taylor Gabriel led Cleveland in receptions, yards and had two lengthy kick returns during the four-game summer slate. K'Waun Williams' grade sheet was full of positive check marks.
Coach Mike Pettine and General manager Ray Farmer's philosophy of keeping the best players on the Browns roster – no matter how they arrived in the NFL -- shone through a year ago, when those four unproven players were kept over the likes of veterans Nate Burleson, MarQueis Gray and Rex Grossman.
As training camp and the preseason creeps closer, members of the Dawg Pound should start paying attention to these hard-working, undrafted types. Farmer and Pettine have an affinity toward them.
Tight end E.J. Bibbs, one of two undrafted rookies at the position, is near the top the list of surprising risers.
Despite knee surgery that he says hampered him in 2014, Bibbs was named First-Team All-Big 12 with 45 receptions and eight touchdowns in his final season at Iowa State. At 6-foot-2, 258 pounds, Bibbs has the athleticism to beat linebackers in coverage and also the strength to bruise oncoming defenders as a blocker on the line.
"The (E.J.) Bibbs kid has had a real good spring for us," Pettine said during mini-camp. "He's kind of come out of nowhere. We feel that we have some depth in the room and some future depth in that room that we're very pleased with."
Cleveland's tight ends room has two distinct positions – the Y and the F. The Y is more of an on-the-ball blocker, an area where Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge excel the most. The F is more of a flex position and requires receiving skills. It's where newly acquired Rob Housler will see quite a bit of action.
And lying in the middle of both is Bibbs. His tweener portrayal in the offense has intrigued the coaching staff because he can be used in a variety of packages.
"I'm certainly pleased with his work ethic right now," tight ends coach Brian Angelichio said. "(He's) taking the approach in the classroom, working hard outside the building. A lot of that stuff will take shape as we go through training camp and more decisions will be made. We'll get to see him in real contact, where he's got to block people, and then the preseason games."