Throughout the Browns' training camp in Berea, Bernie'sInsiders will focus on players' thoughts as they get ready for the 2005 National Football League season. Today, we catch up with newcomer cornerback Ray Mickens, linebacker Jamal Brooks, tight end Keith Willis and offensive lineman Dave Yovanovits.
Q – Can you tell after one day how much catching up you have to do?
A – I've got a lot of work to get back to where I want to get to. I'm going to have to put in some extra work here. I know my position is a tough position to play. You can't take time off and come back and expect to be as good as you were. I've got a lot of work to do, but I'm looking forward to it.
Q – When you knew the Jets were talking with Ty Law, did you think it was going to cost you your job?
A – No, I didn't see it coming. I thought it would have been a formidable threesome (with Law and David Barrett) at the corner position up in New York. It was a little bit surprising in a way. The salary cap is tough. That's the nature of the business. I understand that. I've been around long to see other people go through the same thing. Actually, Ty Law went through it himself in New England. Just me talking to him the other night – we're good friends – he showed me his side of going through it also.
Q – Just to get this out of the way, what's a little guy like you doing in the big, bad NFL for 10 years?
A – You know what, growing up, the reason I play the position I play was because of Frank Minnifield and Hanford Dixon (of the Browns). They originated the Dawg Pound and those guys, even though I grew up in Texas, those guys are a big influence in my career.
Q – Now that you're here, have you contacted either of them?
A – I'm looking forward to meeting either one of them, it doesn't matter. I'm here for business. I know what I'm here for. I'm excited to be here and I want to express my gratitude on the field for Romeo and Phil and those guys who gave me the opportunity to play for Cleveland.
Q – How much of an opportunity to start played a factor in your decision to come here (as opposed to other teams bidding for his services)?
A – It played a factor. I had some better offers, but the reason I came here was because of that opportunity and also Romeo (Crennel) and some of the coaches here I'm familiar with. It's a good situation for me to come in and be able to have a chance to start and play with Romeo, He's a good coach. I remember him when he was in New York.
Q – What is your official height?
A – Five eight (he's much closer to 5-6). That's what it is. That's what it is. You can't cheat at the (Indianapolis) combine.
Q – Throughout your career, did teams try to pick on you with the 6-3 guy?
A – Actually, I like bigger receivers. It takes them a little bit longer to slow down. Obviously, you have an advantage in the open field. I think the biggest advantage for a big receiver is in the red zone. You know, go high. They can jump and have jump-ball situations like that. I enjoy going up against bigger receivers because I feel like I have the advantage.
Q – Did the Browns tell you that you would be a starter?
A – No. Nobody's ever given me anything in my life. I wouldn't want it any other way. Where I came from and my stature, nothing was given to me. Nobody promised me anything when I came here. It's a job I've got to earn.
Q – You mentioned Minnifield and Dixon. What was it about them that you liked?
A – I liked everything about their stature, their persona, the Dawg Pound, everything about that I really dug being a kid. Even though I grew up in Texas – I was a Cowboys fan – Cleveland was always the team I followed just because of those two guys. And I played the position I played in Little League because of those two guys. To have the opportunity to play in Cleveland is something special to me personally.
Q – What's it like to put on orange and brown?
A – It feels different. I know some of the history of Cleveland. I know it's my job to come in here and be a piece to the puzzle to get us back into the playoffs. That's the only reason I'm here. I wouldn't want it any other way.
Q – You're playing mostly inside linebacker and the nickel. Is that where they've got you anchored?
A – I've always learned to learn everything.. Whatever they ask me to do I can do. But right now when we go out there, I'm inside (weakside) and nickel.
Q – Ever play the 3-4 before?
A – A variation, but not strictly 3-4. We might have done a little 3-4 in third and medium, second and long or nickel-type of 3-3 look. But not 3-4 first down.
Q – This is your sixth training camp and third team. Anything different they're doing here than in your previous stops (New Orleans and Dallas)?
A – At New Orleans in my first year, it was just tough. You're a rookie trying to understand the NFL game. My second training camp (with the Cowboys), it was very hot. The years after that, I got a little bit more comfortable because I understood my role. One thing about the NFL, you've got to figure out what type of player you are, what's your role, improve on things you need to improve on and make the things better that you're already good at. I figured out my role, exactly what type of linebacker I am compared to what the NFL does. This year, it's more of a . . . you don't pay attention to outside things. You just take care of what you need to take care of. Don't worry about numbers. Don't worry about anything else. Just worry about that play, that time and take care of that.
Q – You said you learned in the Dallas camp something you didn't know about yourself. What was that?
A – I learned that offenses in the NFL have certain keys. Every offense has a key. To run a certain route, they have to get in certain formations. On certain down and distance, every team runs that just because (1) they have to protect the quarterback and (2) every quarterback kind of reads the same. Now there are certain offenses that are a little different. Indianapolis has variations and you just need to do a little more scouting. But I learned that I can – I'm very smart – I can decipher defenses and decipher plays before they happen. If you do that, it gives you an extra step if you think about every possible motion before it happens and just study. I learned you just need to study a lot. That's pretty much it. Study offenses, study defenses and study the weaknesses of your defense.
Q – What is your greatest strength, the one that will help you make this club?
A – Smart, aggressive, consistent and hungry. I'm not 6-3 (he's more like 6-0), I'm not 255 (he's listed at 238), I don't run a 4.3 (40-yard dash), but every play, I'm going to give you what I've got. I know the defense. I know the offense. I'm going to be aggressive in whatever I do. If they run it 10 times, I'm going to stop it 10 times.
Q – Any difference between the way they run things here and the way they do in Green Bay (where he trained last summer with the Packers)?
A – It's not as demanding on your body here. They did a real good job scheduling this training camp. There's a lot of down time to rest your body between practices.
Q – You've got good size for a tight end (he 6-6 and 252 pounds). Is pass catching or blocking your forte, perhaps both?
A – Both, but both still need some work. I'm never satisfied with my performance thus far with catching or blocking. But I give a great effort in both phases of the game.
Q – You've two tight ends ahead of you and Kellen Winslow Jr. is going to be down for the year, so there's probably going to room for a third tight end.
A – Yes and hopefully compete for the backup job as well.
Q – Have they got you on special teams?
A – I'm second and third on most depth charts (on special teams) behind a couple of guys, but I'm grateful to get into the game and for the opportunity to show the coaches what I can do on special teams, too.
Q – What is your greatest asset, the one area that could help the club the most?
A – Probably when I get my chance at special teams. Also, run blocking at the tight end position, be able to move somebody off the ball. I can make plays, too, in the passing game. That's the easy part for me. But I have to become more consistent in both parts. I'm not scared to put my nose in there. I'm not scared to make a play when my number is called.
Q – The Browns are looking for quality dept along the offensive line. What do you bring to the team that you believe can help the club?
A – Good attitude. I'm going to work hard. I'm going to be coachable, do as I'm told. I've been in the league two years, so I have a little experience from that aspect.
Q – How versatile can you be?
A – I can play right and left guard and they're working with me at center a little right now. Never played center before so I'm trying to get used to the snap and it's a little difficult right now.
Q – The responsibilities at center are a little more complicated.
A – Yeah, there's more terminology and more of a mental aspect of the game that's difficult.
Q – Is the terminology used here that much different than it was with the New York Jets and if so, how have you adjusted to it?
A – Oh yeah. Fortunately, the offense we had my previous years under (offensive coordinator) Paul Hackett with the Jets, it's pretty similar to this. So when I look at the schemes and concepts they play (here), it's basically the same for the most part. It's just different terminology. I'll go up to the line and I'll know exactly what to do, but I have to remember what the new calls are going to be. Fortunately, it's very similar to what I've been exposed to in the past.
Q – Is this something that eventually is going to happen fro you?
A – Oh yeah, absolutely. I'm not as quick as the other guys are with it yet, but it's been a pretty quick learning curve I've found so far.
Q – This is a run-first offense. Like it?
A – That's how you wear the guys down . .. the running game. You sit there and air it out two out of three plays, the fourth quarter will be for the guys (on defense) who aren't really that tired. When you run the ball successfully, come the late third quarter and fourth quarter, that's when they kind of start to wear down. That's a big advantage.