BEREA, Ohio— Undrafted rookie free agent wide receiver Taylor Gabriel is making his case to make the Browns roster.
After (Austin and Hawkins), I see it as wide open,” Pettine said Thursday after practice. “Burleson’s been struggling with the injury; then you’ve got some young guys that have stepped up. Taylor Gabriel I think has had a really good camp for us – is really going to make it a difficult decision for us. I think he’s been solid…Then there’s good competition for some of those other spots.”
Gabriel (5-8, 167) leads the Browns receivers after the first two preseason games with six receptions for 67 yards (11.2 avg.), including a long of 22 yards. He had three catches for 32 yards in his first preseason game and followed it up with three more for 35 yards against the Redskins.
“I was just blessed to be out there,” Gabriel said. “It felt good being out there and getting the butterflies out. I’m feeling very confident and very focused. I’m more comfortable with the playbook and I’m able to play faster, so I think that would be the reason why [I’ve improved].”
With the Josh Gordon situation still unclear, Gabriel is believed to be battling fellow rookies Willie Snead, Jonathan Krause, Tim Smith and veterans Anthony Armstrong, Charles Johnson and Marlon Moore for the final one or two roster spots at receiver. Nate Burleson hasn’t helped his case as he’s missed most of his time with the Browns with a broken wrist and more recently a hamstring injury that has caused him to miss the first two pre-season games.
Gabriel, 23, has also been tested as a punt and kickoff returner. He has two punt returns for 32 yards including a long return of 17 yards. Gabriel also has returned two kickoffs for 38 yards, both for 19 yards.
Gabriel wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine, but posted a 4.28 time in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. He is one player that can challenge Benjamin and Buster Skrine for the fastest player on the Browns roster.
Gabriel said he has had to learn the nuances of the game at the NFL level.
“It’s been eye-opening,” Gabriel said recently after practice. “It was a transition. The speed wasn’t the big transition. It was more mental.”
Gabriel played at Abilene Christian where he appeared in 45 games and amassed 215 receptions for 3,028 yards, including 27 touchdowns. In his senior season, Gabriel had 73 catches for 1,061 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Cuts Coming: The Browns along with the other 31 NFL teams have roster cuts approaching quickly. Currently, teams are allowed to still have 90 players on their roster but they have to cut to 75 players by Aug. 26. Just four days later, rosters have to be down to 53 on Aug. 30. On Aug. 31, teams can establish a practice squad, which has been expanded from eight to 10 players.
Pettine was asked about the expansion of the practice squad and also the ability to have two players who have up to two years experience still be on the practice squad.
“I think that’s a win for everyone,” Pettine said. “I also like with what they’ve done with the experienced guys being able to come back.”
Assuming the Browns don’t make their full roster moves until the 26th, 37 players that are currently with the team will be gone within a week after the third preseason game with the Rams. The Browns currently have 90 players on the roster, which means they will have to drop at least 15 by next Tuesday.
Sidelined: The following Browns did not participate in Thursday’s practice due to injury: OL Michael Bowie (shoulder), DL Desmond Bryant (wrist), WR Nate Burleson (hamstring), DB Pierre Desir (knee), TE Martell Webb (groin), RB Edwin Baker (hamstring), LB Darius Eubanks (shoulder), OL Randall Harris (knee), DB T.J. Heath (hip), WR Jonathan Krause (knee), LB Eric Martin (concussion), LB Keith Pough (ankle), DB Buster Skrine (thumb), DB Isaiah Trufant (knee) and DB K’Waun Williams (hamstring). - NFI: OL Nick McDonald (wrist).
Burleson, Desir, Heath, Trufant and Williams were on the stationary bikes and working with the trainers during the portion of practice open to the media. The rest listed were not seen on the field.
Pettine is hopeful that Burleson will be able to play sooner-than-later. He was asked if he knows when he’ll be ready.
“I don’t,” he said. “It’s almost safe to list him as day-to-day.”
Burleson has not yet played in the preseason.
Gordon Frustrated: Pettine said that WR Josh Gordon has bounced back after showing a lack of effort in the Redskins game.
“He responded and we discussed what happened in the game and he responded and had some good practices for us.”
Pettine said that he thinks the pending suspension is still weighing on him.
“I think it’s human nature,” Pettine said. “It’s definitely weighing on him. He wants to move forward and get on with it. It can be draining.”
It’s been nearly two weeks since Gordon had his appeal hearing and the decision could come down this weekend.
Lighter Day: The Browns didn’t practice in pads for the second-straight day. OL Joe Thomas was given his scheduled weekly day off from practice.
Still Favoring Johnny: According to gambling site Bovada.Iv, QB Johnny Manziel is the favorite to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award despite starting the season on the bench as the backup to QB Brian Hoyer. Texan’s DL Jadeveon Clowney is listed as the favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. Manziel is listed as 11/2 odds to win followed by WR Sammy Watkins and WR Brandin Cooks at 6/1.
Next Up: The Browns will have a walk through on Friday at FirstEnergy Stadium. It will be the first time for most of the team and coaches to be at the Stadium. The Browns will play their first preseason game at home on Saturday at 8 pm against the Rams. It is the first game being played since FirstEnergy Stadium has been renovated. The renovation will feature new state of the art scoreboards.
Pettine said he expects the starters to play at least the first half and possibly into the third quarter depending on how many plays they get.