BEREA, Ohio—Alex Mack has returned.
The Cleveland Browns two-time Pro Bowl center had started all 85 games of his career and 5,279 consecutive snaps until he suffered a fractured fibula in the second quarter of the Browns 31-10 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 12.
Mack had surgery on Oct. 16 and was placed on injured reserve Oct. 17.
Mack was coming off his second Pro Bowl season in 2013 and a multi-year contract extension after the Browns matched a transition tag offer from the Jaguars after the 2013 season.
Mack’s injury sent the Browns offense into a tailspin. After posting rushing yardages of over 100 yards in four of the first five games (183, 122, 175 and 158), the offense only accounted for four games the rest of the season when they eclipsed the 100-yard mark in rushing.
Mack was asked if he agreed with that assessment.
“You could draw that conclusion,” Mack said after OTA’s on Tuesday. “But I think it’s natural for defenses to try and stop the run if you’ve been having success.”
Mack said he had a tough time sitting on the sideline after his injury.
“I think we had a good offense going and was upset I couldn’t be a part of it,” he said. “I want to be out there helping my team.”
The Browns had a revolving door at center once Mack went down. John Greco stepped in for game at center for the remainder of the game that Mack was injured and the following week. Nick McDonald started six games before giving way to Ryan Seymour for three games. Seymour missed the season finale with a hamstring injury and McDonald finished the season.
Greco is excited to have Mack back and expects big things from him.
“He’s a pro and he’s going to come back stronger than ever.”
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said there was a drop off when Mack went down, “We excelled running the ball on teams early on when we were all there (playing).” Mike Pettine said that although is ready to go for training camp, the coaches are keeping him out of harm’s way.
“Alex is ready to go,” he said. “It’s something we just want to be a lot more conservative with it and not risk it.”
Mack likes the approach.
“I’m doing what we need to be ready for camp,” Mack said. “Staying on top of injuries. There’s no game this week. Just to be smart about it is a good move.”
The Browns drafted Cameron Erving in the first round and much of the analysis was not only to provide depth and competition on the line, but as insurance if Mack decides not to return to the Browns next season. Mack has an option to void his contract after this season, if he desires.
Mack was asked about the team drafting Erving in the first round.
“I think just having depth is something that is really important,” Mack said. “They like him, they like his versatility.”
When asked about the possibility of him opting out, Mack had little to say.
“Defer (to answer).”
When pressed further on what it would take for him to not opt out, Mack said winning is important to him.
“I want to play this season and not talk about (the contract),” he said. “I want to play well and win games. No one likes to lose at any level, it’s tough. Winning is very important to me.”
Johnny at 2: QB Johnny Manziel took reps with the second team behind QB Josh McCown. Manziel threw a pass intended for RB Isaiah Crowell that was intercepted by DB K’Waun Williams. He bounced back and completed several passes to TE Gary Barnidge, WR Travis Benjamin with zip on the ball.
Pettine was asked how Manziel is progressing.
“He’s been very engaged in meetings and I feel a better sense of urgency from (the quarterback room).”
Pettine was asked why Manziel was with the second team as QB Connor Shaw finished the 2014 season as the starter due to injury.
“(It was a) coaches decision based on how those guys came out of phase two.” Pettine said.
Pettine was asked what he sees in Manziel from a year ago.
“I think he’s a little bit more focused now, but he knows and he’s said he has to go out and prove it every day.”
Gilbert ‘energetic’: Pettine said he likes what he’s seen of DB Justin Gilbert thus far in the off-season.
“Justin’s had a good spring,” Pettine said. “I thought he looked very energetic out there. With all the young guys, it’s more of a consistency thing.”
When asked to assess Gilbert’s first NFL season, Pettine said.
Taylor Sighting: DL Phil Taylor was on the field coming off season-ending knee surgery. Taylor played just five games in 2014, including four starts. Taylor had arthroscopic surgery on his knee on Oct. 8 and returned to play in Week 10 against the Bengals on Nov. 6. He suffered another knee injury on Nov. 6 at Cincinnati that forced him to injured reserve. He finished the season with just 10 tackles.
“Phil should be ready to go for training camp,” Pettine said.
Injury updates: Rookie WR Vince Mayle was on the field but wearing a cast on his right thumb. Pettine disclosed that Mayle would be having surgery on his thumb after the rookie minicamp.
Others not practicing were: DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (knee), TE Randall Telfer (foot), OL Nick McDonald (undisclosed), DL Armonty Bryant (knee), LB Barkevious Mingo (shoulder), OL Karim Barton (undisclosed).
Pettine said Bryant is doing individual drills and Mingo can do individual drills, as well.
Johnson is the only rookie that hasn’t signed his contract.
Shelton in school: Top draft pick DL Danny Shelton is missing OTA’s as he is still finishing up school as Washington is on quarters, not semesters. ”There’s no substitute for being with teammates and learning the ropes,” Pettine said. “I wouldn’t say it’s going to put him behind tremendously, but it’s tough. Those guys that are at those quarter system schools (get behind).”
No Tashaun: Gipson is still staying away as he hopes to get a long-term contract extension after being tendered a second-round restricted free agent.
Quick hits: QB Josh McCown hit WR Brian Hartline on a deep pass as DB Ibraheim Campbell just barely missed knocking the pass down…Moments later, Campbell batted down a pass in team drills…DB K’Waun Williams intercepted a pass from QB Johnny Manziel on a pass to RB Isaiah Crowell…Johnson Bademosi intercepted QB Connor Shaw.