The Browns passing game did not get a passing grade for its performance Thursday morning as the club's mandatory three-day full-squad minicamp opened.
And to gauge just how disappointing it was, you needed only to look at team president Mike Holmgren – and the placement of his hands -- during one particularly hard-to-watch three-play sequence.
Holmgren, who knows a thing or two or three about throwing the ball, was standing on the side watching. He went from having his hands behind his back, to holding them on his hips, as quarterback Seneca Wallace's pass to Alex Smith went off the tight end's hands, his toss to James Davis went off the running back's hands, and his throw for wide receiver Chansi Stuckey was broken up by cornerback Coye Francies.
Then Brett Ratliff went in at quarterback.
It was as if Holmgren, with his hand movements, went from saying, "The weather is beautiful today. I like being out here watching this young team develop," to "What in the name of the forward pass is going on here?"
To be fair, the Browns threw the ball extremely well during the OTA practices, especially in the ones that were open to the media. It was a marked improvement from a year ago, when, even in the season-ending four-game winning streak, the Browns struggled to throw the ball. As such, Holmgren – along with head coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll – had absolutely no reason to be upset with the team's work this spring.
So maybe what happened Thursday morning was just a little hiccup or speed bump. And anyway, it's better that it happens now, about three months before the start of the regular season, than in early November, when the Browns, with a little luck, could be right around .500 as they try to post just their third winning record of the expansion era.
Still, it was a difficult start to the minicamp. Here are some of the other passing plays:
*Jake Delhomme went to Mohamed Massaquoi, but the wide receiver slipped when he made his cut to turn for the ball, and it was intercepted by cornerback Joe Haden, the team's first-round pick in the NFL Draft.
*Delhomme's pass for Massaquoi was knocked down.
*A pass intended for Smith was intercepted by defensive back Ray Ventrone.
*Ratliff's pass for tight end Evan Moore was overthrown.
*Adams broke up Wallace's pass for wideout Joshua Cribbs on the next play.
*Delhomme's pass to Robiskie was broken up by linebacker Chris Gocong.
*Wallace threw a pass toward Moore and Lawrence Vickers, but the tight end broke one way and the fullback went another direction and the ball went right between them.
*Delhomme's pass to Robert Royal was behind the tight end.
*Wallace's pass was knocked down at the line of scrimmage by defensive end Robaire Smith.
*Wallace tried to hit Stuckey, but the pass was broken up.
The quarterbacks and receivers have to share the blame. To be sure, some of the throws were off-target, but at the same time, the receivers did not do a good job of coming back for the ball, allowing defenders to slip in and get their hands on the passes.
There were some good passing plays as well, the best of them being Ratliff's right-on-target throw to Carlton Mitchell as the rookie wideout found a seam down the left side.
Also, wide receiver James Robinson made a nice leaping, fingertip catch of a Ratliff pass on a crossing route, and Stuckey made a good grab of a Wallace throw.
Here are some quick notes:
*Two of the Browns' five restricted free agents practiced. Running back Jerome Harrison and fullback Lawrence Vickers were present, while linebackers Matt Roth and D'Qwell Jackson, and safety Abe Elam decided to stay away.
*WR Carlton Mitchell always practices with the sleeves of his jersey rolled up, revealing some well-muscled arms.
*Holmgren's guest at practice was former longtime Kansas City Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson.
*As usual, the Browns blared music at practice, with several of the speakers stationed along the west side of the practice complex. The rear of a Baptist church is located only about 15 yards away on the other side of a fence. Some of the lyrics in the rap songs being played were a little edgy for Sunday school. One time several years ago, the Browns were conducting a training camp practice when a funeral was being held at the church.
*The best line of the day came as a small bird, separated from its mother and trying to figure out a way to get over the aforementioned fence to get back to her, kept buzzing the head of Browns radio analyst Doug Dieken. Someone quipped that the bird was giving the former Browns left tackle as much trouble as did Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert. Dieken came back, "His legs are about as skinny as Lambert's, too."