Swooping Down on Training Camp

The Owl swoops down on today's rookie camp and doesn't see any draftees to harass with his usual array of journalistic power dives and hoots. Still, he's flown back to the nest with some early impressions after today's practice. Who looked sharp... who didn't... and who's making a mistake by not signing...

Day one of rookie training camp came and went Tuesday afternoon with no drafted rookies. The Owl has flown over a lot of training camps over the years, and can never remember that happening.

Coach Butch Davis is not worried, though, and won't fret unless Friday rolls around and the draft picks are still out of camp. Still, it is almost impossible to comprehend fifth-round defensive back Michael Lehan and sixth-round defensive lineman Antonio Garay missing even a second of camp. Lehan is trying to score in an area of the team that is unsettled; Garay is trying to muscle is way into one of the deepest parts of the team.

"It becomes a problem for them," Davis said. "There's a chance they might not make the team. I've told the team as loud and hard as I could for about a month; we have some good position competition. For the first we're going to cut some guys that are good players.

"Anybody that misses much training camp certainly is not going to enhance their ability to make the team. They miss repetitions, learning, execution... Every time we practice is an opportunity to make an impression. You're not going to make much of an impression sitting at home." Center Jeff Faine (first round), linebacker Chaun Thompson (second round), defensive back Chris Crocker (third), running back Lee Suggs (fourth) and long snapper Ryan Pontbriand are the other draft picks absent Tuesday.

Davis is not blaming the players. He said they are blindly following the advice of agents. Signings have been slow around the league, and agents are reluctant to commit for fear of a player drafted after their client making more money.

In the meantime, Davis is able to take a closer look at some of the young players who are in camp. One of those is Nate Hybl, the free agent quarterback from Oklahoma.

"As sparse as the numbers were, we got some things accomplished," Davis said after the first practice. "Anytime you can practice, you have to go in thinking something good can come out of it. One of the things that came out of it was Nate Hybl. He threw the ball extremely well. Except for a couple drops, I don't think he had any incompletions."

But talk about having the deck stacked in a negative way; Hybl is trying to crack a trio of quarterbacks - Tim Couch, Kelly Holcomb and Josh Booty. The first two are fighting for the starting job and Davis says Booty is his most improved quarterback.

Could Davis even think about keeping four quarterbacks on a 53-man roster? As unlikely as it seems, Davis says it is not out of the question. And when you think about how Browns quarterbacks have been injured over the first four years, it might not be a bad idea; Couch has finished only one of four seasons healthy. Holcomb missed part of 2002 with a broken leg. The Browns used four different quarterbacks in 2000, not counting Kevin Johnson and Dennis Northcutt.

"We're going to keep the 53 best players," Davis said. "We kept six receivers last year; a lot of teams kept four. We've kept nine or 10 defensive linemen. We're going to attempt to not cut anybody that's really good."

Extra Hoots:

  • One player the Owl was eager to see was a major disappointment Tuesday; Chad Mustard, the 6-6 tight end, dropped as many passes as he caught. Some of his drops hit him in both hands.
  • Wide receiver Frisman Jackson is wearing a boot cast on his right leg. Jackson broke the fifth metatarsal on his right foot in quarterback school last month. He said he will be out until the second or third game.
  • Two free agent rookies were signed. Fullback Keala Keanaaina, 6-3, 264 pounds from Hawaii and wide receiver Brian Haugarbrook , 6-2, 200 pounds from Florida raise the total of nondrafted players in camp to 35.
  • On another front, Courtney Brown attended practice, but did not work out. His physical will be conducted Thursday when the other veterans arrive. Brown is recovering from microfracture surgery.

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