By Vic Carucci, Senior Editor
Here are my five biggest takeaways from the third day of practice at Browns training camp:
>>Scary scene. The first practice in pads got off to an ominous start when offensive lineman Ryan Miller, during a one-on-one with defensive lineman Brian Sanford, fell backward and suffered a concussion. An eerie, stone silence came over the Casey Coleman Field House, to where practice was moved (and closed to the public) due to wet fields. Players, coaches, and staff all stopped what they were doing and watched nervously as trainers and paramedics tended to Ryan before transporting him to the hospital, where he remained until his release Saturday night. Coach Rob Chudzinski and his assistants did an impressive job of getting the players promptly refocused for the rest of practice, which had a good energy level to the end.
>>Spirited workouts. For the third day in a row, the practice tempo was upbeat and aggressive on both sides of the ball. For the third day in a row, players tussled with each other between plays. The scrappy tone is clearly emanating from the defense, which is employing a far more proactive style than existed the past two seasons. The attack-oriented approach creates a sense of urgency that was only amplified by the fact the team was in pads for the first time on Saturday. Offensive players no longer can count on defenders generally lining up and remaining in the same place most of the time. There is constant movement on the part of defenders, and it is more challenging for the offense to anticipate the direction from which the pass rush is coming. There also is a mentality among defenders to make the most of the chances they have to engage in contact. One example was strong safety T.J. Ward tagging Jordan Cameron with authority as the tight end went out of bounds with a catch. To his credit, Cameron took the hit and remained on his feet.
>>Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant dominate. Through the first two non-contact practices, it was hard to truly gauge the effectiveness of the Browns’ two most prominent free-agent acquisitions – outside linebacker Paul Kruger and defensive end Desmond Bryant. That changed on Saturday. With pads on, the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Kruger and the 6-6, 310-pound Bryant were able to consistently overpower blockers with their sheer size and strength. At one point, Kruger drove right tackle Mitchell Schwartz deep into the backfield. Kruger and Bryant add a distinctive increase in size to the defensive front. But these guys aren’t only about power. Kruger dropped into coverage and was stride-for-stride with highly athletic Cameron before turning around at the last second to knock down a throw with one hand.
>>Brandon Weeden rebounds. After a somewhat rough practice on Friday, Weeden rallied with a solid showing on Saturday. His throws were generally more accurate and he displayed better timing with his receivers. Weeden also spent some extra time after practice throwing passes to Greg Little. And Little continued his routine of watching numerous passes from the JUGGS machine well after the workout. If this is any reflection of the team’s overall mindset toward striving for optimum performance, there is reason to be encouraged that the striving-for-excellence-in-everything-we-do culture being instilled from the very top of the organization is catching on.
>>Another strong day for Travis Benjamin. This is sounding like a broken record, but Benjamin once again made himself noticed by running great routes and catching practically everything thrown his way. Whether he is working from the slot or outside, he consistently finds openings in the secondary. And he makes difficult catches as well as easy ones. Benjamin clearly is making a statement that the team can count on him to move into the starting lineup while Josh Gordon sits out the first two games of the regular season due to a suspension.
>>Bonus observation. Running back Dion Lewis, acquired in an offseason trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, shows impressive short-area quickness and explosiveness. The knock on him from NFL scouts is that he doesn’t have the greatest speed for longer runs, but his quick burst when he gets the ball figures to give Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner something with which they can work in finding a role for him in the offense.
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