The Browns’ players entered day two of training camp with two things on their minds: improving as a team, as well as enhancing their individual chances of making the final roster. In reference to competition, Browns’ general manager Ray Farmer said it best in today’s presser,
“Again for us, it’s about driving the competition and pushing the roster. Always looking to incrementally get better. If we can push the guys that are at the bottom end of the roster, if you will, to pushing those next guys, it’ll improve all of us.”
Iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another — the Browns undoubtedly bear this philosophy by the number of position battles taking place this summer. Below is a list of position battles that are beginning to heat up.
Hoyer Vs. Manziel
The position battle that everyone is talking about is at the quarterback position — ostensibly the most important position on the field. For the moment Brian Hoyer appears to have a much better command of where the football is supposed to go, and has done a good job of getting it there quickly. Hoyer connected on two deep balls to Anthony Armstrong and looked very good throwing the out route. At this juncture, the offense has greater synergy and cohesiveness with Hoyer.
Johnny Manziel, who will continue to work with the second-team offense at least through Tuesday (according to head coach Mike Pettine), is enduring the typical ups and downs of a rookie quarterback. Occasionally Manziel appears to be thinking entirely too much instead of hitting his back foot on a three-step drop and getting the ball out of his hands.
He’s also drifting instead of stepping into throws in the face of pressure causing him to push the football as opposed to throwing it with velocity. As a result, the nose of the football is elevated over the back end causing the ball to sail and lose steam. However teammate wide receiver Nate Burleson had some flattering things to say about the young quarterback, as well as the quarterback competition.
“I love Johnny. I do. Johnny is for real. I like confident quarterbacks. I like guys that are borderline cocky . . . . We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve got two guys competing for the same spot and we can’t go wrong either way. It’s exciting.”
The wide receiver position is a hodgepodge group of veteran and young players looking to make a name for themselves. Andrew Hawkins has been the most consistent wide receiver of the bunch the first two days of camp. Hawkins has showcased outstanding burst and ability after the catch that made him a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses during his time in Cincinnati.
Miles Austin used his large frame to beat Buster Skrine on a fly pattern during one-on-ones, but he has been rather inconsistent.
Anthony Armstrong had his best day today pulling down two deep balls, beating Joe Haden for one of them.
Charles Johnson who is coming off of a torn ACL flashed his speed during team period as he effortlessly created separation. During Farmer’s presser he spoke about Johnson’s talent stating,
“The easy things are all . . . recognizable right away, that he’s 6-foot-2 and a half, 215 pounds. He ran a 4.38 40 [yard dash]. Those are the easy pieces, but when you watch tape you really like his hands . . . . You can see that he’s still big. He’s still fast and he can run routes and catch the football.”
Johnson is an intriguing player, and one that the Browns are hoping will become a consistent contributor sooner rather than later.
Taylor Gabriel continues to impress as he caught Joe Haden standing flatfooted and bolted past he and Tashaun Gipson for a long completion from Brian Hoyer. The extra time he is spending pre-and-post practice working on his get off is also paying off.
Matched up against Justin Gilbert, Gabriel had Gilbert off balance from the beginning of the play. While the ball didn’t come his direction, the coaches will watch the practice film and recognize Gabriel beat his man, and he beat him quickly.
Willie Snead should not be left off of the list of final roster hopefuls as he had a very good second day of practice. Snead showcased very good hands as he caught everything thrown in his general vicinity. Whether the ball was contested, thrown high or low, Snead made the grab. Snead may lack long speed, but he does have short area quickness necessary to get open consistently drawing favorable comparisons to Lance Moore.
One thing for certain is that Joe Haden’s job is safe, however the No.2 cornerback spot is up for grabs. The competition between Buster Skrine and Justin Gilbert will be a good one, but no matter how it pans out, Browns fans will likely be happy with the result.
Buster Skrine elevated his game last season and it appears he’s picking up right where he left off. In one-on-ones he allowed the catch from Miles Austin, but after that, he had an exceptional day. His best play of the morning was when he was in a trail technique and recovered just in time to bat down a pass intended for Josh Gordon.
In reference to the competition with Gilbert, Skrine said,
“I just feel like I’m coming out here and competing with myself. Just trying to get better every play.”
Like the majority of the rookies, Gilbert was rather inconsistent today, but his athleticism is apparent. During one-on-ones, Gilbert stayed inside Jonathan Krause’s hip pocket and made a leaping interception. Unfortunately the good would soon turn to bad as he displayed inconsistent technique as he opened his hips too early, which allowed receivers to gain separation, specifically on short to intermediate routes.
As I stated in yesterday’s practice wrap up, Gilbert is going to have to learn to trust what he sees and close on the football with greater urgency. With that said, he’s young and he’ll catch on soon, it’s just a matter of time.
Tate Vs. West
The running back position, it’s essentially a two-man battle between Ben Tate and Terrance West, and this competition will likely last until the bitter end of training camp.
Ben Tate is a big back with exceptional athleticism, and experience in a zone-blocking scheme. However, in two practices Tate has not looked the part of a running back with experience in a zone-blocking scheme. Tate has occasionally missed cutback lanes, has been rather impatient and overall has not made the best decisions with the football in his hands.
When asked about his competition Terrance West, Tate said,
“I really don’t know, we’re only two days in. [You] can’t tell a lot. Football is played with the pads on so, to me, the real evaluation of people really starts [then].”
We’ll see if Tate is able to stave off his competition throughout camp. In order to do so, he’s going to have to improve upon his performances from the last couple of days, irrespective of whether or not the team is practicing in pads.
Terrance West continues to shine and has been the most consistent running back in the first two practices. He’s shown vision, patience and lateral quickness necessary to maximize yards in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. He’s also proven that he can catch the football exceptionally well.
Many people believed that because he didn’t have a ton of receptions at Townson, that he couldn’t catch the football. His last two days of practices have proven those thoughts on his “inability to catch the ball” completely wrong. Terrance West might be the most natural pass-catching running back on the team outside of Dion Lewis.
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