Hue Jackson needed a second to collect his thoughts.
Asked who made the most improvement from the start of training camp to Tuesday’s end, the Browns coach took his time going through a handful of players who made the kind of leap he wanted to see over the course of 18 practices.
Jackson listed four names -- Austin Corbett, Joel Bitonio, Myles Garrett and Tyrod Taylor -- but stressed he could have included many more.
“There are so many players that I can talk about, but those are the guys that hit my mind right now,” Jackson said after Tuesday’s practice, the last of training camp. “I am sorry if I am forgetting anybody. There are a lot of other players too on our football team that have made huge strides.”
Corbett and Bitonio’s performances are, in a sense, lumped together.
After the first four days of camp, Browns coaches implemented major changes to the left side of the offensive line. Bitonio, a Pro Bowl alternate as a left guard, was moved to left tackle and Corbett, a tackle in college, was elevated to the first-team offensive line. It was a necessary move as the Browns looked to put their best five linemen on the field, and both players handled the change as well as Jackson could have hoped.
“You have to give kudos to Joel Bitonio for what he has done,” said Jackson, who lauded Corbett’s improvement from Game 1 to Game 2 in his post-practice press conference Monday. “He has moved out to a new position, and I think that in the first two ball games, he has held his own against two pretty good rushers. That is impressive.”
Jackson called Garrett’s second training camp with the Browns “phenomenal.” The former No. 1 pick was a force in Friday’s preseason loss to the Bills, showing what a healthy version of himself can do after a year of learning and growing in the NFL.
“We expect him to be that way, he was the first pick of the draft,” Jackson said. “That has been exciting.”
Jackson’s praise of Taylor went beyond training camp. The veteran quarterback established himself as one of the top leaders on the team from the moment he was acquired via trade in March, and his performance over the past month has put Cleveland in as good of shape at the position as it’s been entering a season in years.
“It’s what he has done on this football team since the day that he walked in the building at practice, his leadership, how he has conducted himself here and trying to do everything he can to get this organization get to winning,” Jackson said.
When asked who has surprised him with how they performed in training camp, Jackson skewed young, going with second-year tight end David Njoku and first-round picks Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward.
Njoku caught two touchdown passes in Cleveland’s preseason opener and blocked effectively Friday, when the Browns marched down the field with a dominant rushing performance. Ward locked down a starting job in May and hasn’t looked back. Mayfield has shown improvement at every checkpoint in his development.
“When I look at what Baker has done, walking in here, 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 is 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.”