If you listen to the message the organization preaches on a consistent basis, the story of Browns camp is competition.
It’s not the flash QB Johnny Manziel has shown, nor is it the hot topic of whether QB-turned-WR Terrell Pryor will prevail in his quest to make the team.
For many Browns fans, getting the opportunity to see the team back on the field provides hope that this will finally be the season.
Unfortunately, this sentiment is far too common — and those thoughts on Manziel and Pryor continue to be a polarizing topic for many a fan.
ON MANZIEL AND PRYOR
There is no debate. QB Johnny Manziel is having a good camp and does not look like the player on the field a year ago for the Cleveland Browns. Manziel is committed, he is earning his place, as well as earning respect from those he’s surrounded by on the practice field, locker room and (especially) with the staff.
While the organization has been low-key in discussing Manziel, in recent days their approval in what they are seeing from the second-year signal-caller has become evident.
“He (Manziel) comes in everyday and works - he gives the effort we expect from a Cleveland Browns player and he is putting in the extra you want from a QB. His work in the QB room is vastly different from what we knew a year ago. He is engaged, he speaks up and is proving that he has gained an understanding as to what he needs to be,” a team source tells theOBR. “The question on whether he will play now, this season or next year depends on the situation — there are too many variables, but he is readying himself to be ready when is number is called. In this game, that could come at any minute — but Josh McCown is the starting QB for the Cleveland Browns and if he remains healthy, he will start the season. That’s been our plan, out focus.”
A month ago, Terrell Pryor was believed to be a long-shot to make the squad. The Browns were intrigued with Pryor, and they sent him away following OTAs with a detailed plan to be in prime physical condition for a WR, the play-book and many basics on what a WR at the professional must do to become viable.
Pryor took the time and interest of the Browns to heart. He worked extensively with former superstar WR Randy Moss, Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns suspended WR Josh Gordon in an effort to improve his route-running, practice/workout habits and to pick their collective minds.
“He (Pryor) has the physical ability to become a very good WR. He’s big, fast, strong and mentally determined to prove everybody that says he can’t do this is wrong,” Moss told theOBR. “I think what helps him, gives him an early advantage is he is a QB, he thinks like a QB, he knows what the expectation is between a QB and WR — that thought alone helps him in the mental prep.”
Despite missing the past week due to a hamstring injury, the Browns do not appear to have wavered in their belief in Pryor’s potential and determination.
“Although he (Pryor) isn’t on the field practicing in drills, he is always doing something. From working on his footwork along the sideline to catching passes, working his hand-figging and positioning, he is working. The young man is in every position meeting,” the source said. “He’s close to getting back on the practice field, which he is going to need - we have to see him against competition - not only for him to improve his skill-set, but to realistically evaluate whether he is going to be a viable candidate here. We like our group of WRs, it’s going to be tough for him.”
INJURIES AND INEFFICIENCY LED TO CHANGE ON THE LINES
Although their minds are on Manziel and Pryor, Browns fans should realize that there’s been improvement within the quality and depth of the team. The team’s experience last year with the injury factor and inefficiency led them to push for depth.
Following a season-ending injury to starting center Alex Mack last season, the Browns were caught holding the bag — the quality of depth was not sufficient for the team to play the game in the manner which they had early in the season with Mack at center.
“It (Mack injury and depth) was something we looked at during our off-season evaluations and determined we as an organization had to do better. When you lose a player of his ability (Mack), you have to adjust, you have reasonable expectations that you can fill the void and continue to play at a high level,” a team source tells theOBR. “Our belief is we have worked to address this type of situation during the off-season, the draft and are better prepared to handle such a scenario going forward.”
A season ago, defensive tackle Phil Taylor was lost not once, but twice to knee injuries. In each case, Taylor had to undergo surgery to repair the knee, leaving the Browns with a void along the defensive line. Interestingly, Taylor was playing more of a defensive end role within the scheme, which was a first in his career.
“Last season was a tough one for him (Taylor). He didn’t come into camp in the best of condition. I mean, he is a big man and is athletic, but we want guys to be in peak condition, he wasn’t when camp started.” the source said. “By the time the season started he was ready and we may have miscast him and some of our defensive scheme from the onset. There was a significant amount of change for these guys and it took awhile for it to take hold, but when it did, we started to play much better.”
Via the draft, the Browns added defensive tackle Danny Shelton and lineman Xavier Cooper, who has been seeing time throughout the line in training camp. With an emphasis on stopping the run and generating interior pressure, the Browns are hopeful the two rookie draft selections will add to the core of a defense which figures to be one of the best in the AFC.
“Stopping the run is more than having a couple big bodies inside, you have to have players that understand the scheme, don’t make mistakes, play without having to think their way through the process and play with the athleticism we believe they possess. You see Shelton and Cooper working everyday in practice, they are getting it, they’re not there yet, but improving. Each guy possesses the ability to make us a better defensive team this season,” the source said. “Furthermore, adding a veteran like Randy Starks to our core of Desmond Bryant and John Hughes should only enhance our ability to get after people.”