Berea, OH - They ran, ran and ran some more.
Players were in motion as draft selections, undrafted rookie free agents and a select group of hopefuls donned the orange helmets of the Cleveland Browns and worked out under overcast skies at the Browns training facility on Friday.
47 players in all, hoping to extend their dream and play in the National Football League, went through a lengthy set of conditioning drills. The defense spent time chasing ball-boys down the sideline, play after play. The offense lined up in formation, fired-off the ball, and ran from nearly one end of the 50-yard field to the other. Conditioning and mental preparation was the focus of the day.
On their first day, the offensive and defensive hopefuls would not square off in battle, and the afternoon session was about players remembering and recognizing their positional responsibility. Between the constant barking of encouragement, direction and, at times, disappointment from the new coaching staff of the Browns, players had little time to reflect.
In pads for the session, individual offensive drills answered little, but did provide some insight on a handful of players participating. Rookie wide receivers Brian Robiskie and Mohammed Massaquoi were bright spots in limited opportunities catching passes from Richard Bartel and undrafted rookie Graham Harrell.
Bartel struggled with timing and accuracy, while Harrell, a standout QB from Texas Tech displayed very good accuracy, although his arm-strength appears to be questionable. Despite a couple of under-thrown passes, Harrell easily was the better QB on the field.
Uncovered, but occasionally masked by a member of the staff, the receivers ran patterns, occasionally at full speed. Robiskie was smooth and fluid, while Massaquoi appears to explode and accelerate through cuts. In an impressive display, both receivers used their hands well to haul in numerous passes, never letting the ball get upon them.
Robiskie would let one ball fall to the green grass in Berea, which provided him with the opportunity to run a lap around the practice fields as the remainder of the team continued to practice.
The highlight of the practice session was a drill conducted on the field opposite the media. Basically on old school tackling drill, a player with the ball would attempt to beat a defender. On occasion, the defender would either tap or wrap-up the ball-carrier, and on occasion the drill would get a little more physical.
A common problem for the Browns teams in recent seasons was the inability to tackle. In this short session, some physical and fundamental aspects of the game were put to the test quickly. Head coach Eric Mangini's approach on this first day hints that this team is going to be challenged throughout the spring and summer practice sessions.
As one member of the media noted, "We didn't see that much contact throughout training camp."
And that was just on the first day, with no team drills conducted.
For Observation Sake
- OLB David Veikune is every bit the high-motor, aggressive player indicated when selected by the Browns in the second-round, #52 overall. Surprisingly, Veikune was very fluid, nearly effortless in individual drills and in pursuit of the ball-carrier in sideline-to-sideline drills.
- Granted, there were no defenders, but RB Andrew Johnson displayed very surprising quickness and one-cut ability. After being instructed to pick the hole and go, Johnson and sixth-round draft selection RB James Davis were increasingly decisive.
- C Alex Mack, despite not having a defensive player in front of him, rapidly fired-off the ball on every occasion, leaving those surrounding him along the line a step in the rear.
- WR Jordan Norwood is very quick and caught the ball well with his hands. Norwood, an undrafted free agent from Penn State, appears to be naturally fluid and athletic. Quick and explosive off the ball, Norwood carries himself well and appears to have the skill-set to play at this level. Norwood did not face much press coverage at the collegiate level, if his hand-fighting and quick-hip movement are an indication, the young man could be one of the surprises this summer.