The Browns opened up Quarterback School to the media on Thursday, and the few scribes who ventured out to Berea were treated to an absolutely beautiful late May Cleveland morning. With the sun shining down on the practice field, the Browns ran through ninety minutes of drills which once again showed that the team will present a vastly different look on offense from the one Browns fans suffered with in the 2003 season.
PLAY OF THE DAY: The play of the day comes courtesy of Jeff Garcia and Andre Davis during full squad goal line scrimmages. On the third play of scrimmaging from the ten, Garcia drops to pass and is forced to roll out due to the penetration of the defensive line. As he runs left, Garcia hops into the air and spies Andre Davis in the end zone. Davis leaps and makes an acrobatic catch of the ball.
PLAYER OF THE DAY: The player who stood out during late goal-line scrimmages was Mark Word, who three times broke through the offensive line to either bust up a play or threaten the quarterback. Word is facing increased competition for his role this year, and will likely have to hold off Ebenezer Ekuban for playing time.
ON THE SIDELINES: Dennis Northcutt was on the field and dressed, but didn't participate in any drills that I saw. Coaches and players weren't available afterward, so we didn't hear if there was some sort of problem, or, more likely, if Northcutt is just getting back in slowly. Andra Davis and Gerard Warren, who were both missing in the previous QB school session watched by the media, are both present and participating in all drills.
INDIVIDUAL UNIT DRILLS: As usual, the team began practice by breaking into different groups. Quarterbacks and running backs went to one part of the field, wide receivers to another, tight ends to another, and so on.
Wide Receivers Coach Fred Graves and Offensive Coordinator Terry Robiskie (Graves' predecessor) put their charges through a series of warm-up drills to start practice. Receivers are asked to catch balls while dragging their feet, catch lobs over their shoulders, and catch a pass at a "high point" while being harassed by a fellow receiver. Graves stands about ten yards away from the line of scrimmage, asking receivers to run a specific route that crosses behind him as the ball is tossed.
Andre King, who is smallish and whose presence on the roster is sometimes questioned by fans in our forums, catches everything in these drills. I don't think I've seen King drop a pass in practice yet.
The team's young TE coach, Rob Chudzinski, works with the tight ends on blocking drills. Aaron Shea pushes Steve Heiden back forcefully during the drills, evoking a laugh from the remainder of the tight ends. The team's running backs are taking turns weaving a path through overturned buckets in another drill.
After about ten minutes of these drills, the quarterbacks and tight ends are brought over to work with the wide receivers and shortly afterward the team moves to the other side of the field to begin working seven on sevens, and ultimately the full-squad.
SEVEN ON SEVEN SCRIMMAGING: The focus of the day appears to be goal-line offense and defense, and starts with seven on sevens, which have the offense and defense squaring off on pass plays without the offensive or defensive lines. It's obvious from these drills and the way that the teams rotate that Frisman Jackson is the #3 receiver when Northcutt is not there. Andre Davis, Quincy Morgan and Jackson line up with the first team, and Kellen Winslow is with them.
The basis of the linebacker rotation seems to be its ability to confuse the onlooker from Bernie's Insiders. At one point, I see a combination of Ben Taylor, Barry Gardner, and Warrick Holdman out there, and then later I see substitutions at the SSLB spot that don't tie to our depth chart. At the end of the day, I haven't reached any conclusions about whether the team is going to give Chaun Thompson some more competition at SSLB or whether Ben Taylor, Kevin Bentley and Warrick Holdman are truly going to joust over the weak side role.
Josh Buhl, the Division I-A tackles leader at linebacker who was nonetheless undrafted, doesn't just sit and watch while not actively practicing. I hear him quizzing Andra Davis, and later Kevin Bentley, about what the linebackers are supposed to do in some situations.
During these drills, we finally see Jeff Garcia throw a ball more than twenty yards, which he hasn't done in previous practices. He unleashes at least a thirty-yard pass to Quincy Morgan which is broken up by undrafted CB Michael Grant. While the pass was incomplete, it was also a nice little spiral, so our first sight of Garcia throwing longer is fairly positive.
FULL SQUAD SCRIMMAGE: The team moves to a full squad scrimmage as the lines join the goal line drills. Courtney Brown plays at defensive end and is pushing and grabbing with his arms during drills. The team is taking it easy with him in practice, but there were no obvious ill effects of last season's bicep injury as he practiced today.
The full-squad goal line drills are a lot of fun to watch. Well worth the price of admission when we get around to training camp. The team starts with a series close to the goal line, then moves back to the five, and later starts each play from the ten-yard line.
On the very first play near the goal line, Gerard Warren flies through the line and grabs Lee Suggs jersey three yards behind the line of scrimmage. Whether we should interpret this as a good thing for Warren or a bad thing for our line won't be seen until the season starts.
On the second play, William Green snakes through a gap in the line to freedom. On the third, the Browns use fullback Terrelle Smith as a decoy and run the other direction. On the last play, Jeff Garcia drops to pass, finds no one open, and is forced to run but is grabbed before he can reach the goal line. The play is greeted with a lot of chatter from the defensive side of the team.
Two plays later, the defense plugs up the hole the James Jackson was hoping to run through. DL Lewis Powell gets an effusive "Good job Powell!" from defensive coordinator Campo.
The practice finished up with full squad scrimmaging near the goal line from the five and the ten yard lines. In addition to the play and player of the day (above), these scrimmages feature some nice plays, including David Young breaking up a pass intended for Steve Heiden (lots of cheers from the defense for that one) and Frisman Jackson making a nifty reception while draped by Andra Davis.
SPECIAL TEAMS DRILLS: As Jerry Rosburg barks out his desires for the first drill, Butch Davis comes over to the sideline to chat and shake the hand of a young boy, probably around five years old, who was watching practice dressed in his Browns jersey.
The team practices field goals with both Frost and Dutton holding for Dawson as he attempts kicks from the 10 yard line back through to the 25 yard line. Davis talks with Pontbriand and Frost as the second team is on the field.
The team then moves on to punting drills and Derrick Frost and Ryan Dutton are dealing with the long-snapping of Scot Osborne, who will occasionally make them leap or reach down for snaps. Frost is getting more distance on his kicks, while Dutton is kicking them higher with less distance. Both of them seem somewhat erratic with their kicks after years of being spoiled with Chris Gardocki, but the constant chatter of the defensive linemen watching the special teams play makes it tough to concentrate. CJ Jones is called "Keyshawn" for some reason, and Ryan Dutton (wearing number 19) is called "Unitas" at one point. At another point, one of the linemen shouts out "Was that an angle kick?" after a punt gets yanked towards the sidelines.
The team is still using Kellen Winslow to rush the punter on special teams. On one punt, he rushes in and gets close to the punter. Derrick Frost gets off a very nice punt as this portion of practice winds to a close and sideline observers comment on Michael Lehan's speed getting down the field on coverage.