By Dan Williams @Dan_Wi11iams on August 5, 2014
The first week of training camp for the Cleveland Browns is in the books, and the team's first preseason game is on Thursday. Overall, the hopes of a successful 2014 campaign remain, but the Browns have a lot of work ahead of them in order to prepare for Week 1 of the regular season. Although it's early, we are able to get a glimpse into how the team is shaping up so far in training camp, and here are 10 takeaways after the first week.
According to a recently released depth chart, rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert still has work to do if he's going to earn a starting cornerback role opposite Joe Haden. Buster Skrine, who was the team's starter last season, has been taking majority of his practice snaps with the first team. The competition is still wide open, but neither Skrine nor Gilbert have made enough of an impression to sway Skrine's role as the starter.
Call it lack of knowledge by the offense, but so far the defense has been dominant in camp — namely the linebacking group. Familiar names like Dansby, Mingo and Kruger have led the way, but lesser known names like Eric Martin, journeyman Zac Diles and last year's starter Craig Robertson have made strong impressions early on with their ability to create turnovers. In the team's family day scrimmage, both Diles and Robertson had a pick-six.
Although it's not yet known what Josh Gordon's fate will be, the Browns have gone on as a team both with and without him. Without him, Cleveland has looked to its younger group of wide receivers including Charles Johnson, Chandler Jones and Willie Snead. Snead, who is an undrafted rookie free agent, has turned heads early in camp with his reliable hands and route running. This group will benefit from the added playing time in Gordon's absence.
When the Browns signed veteran receiver Miles Austin this offseason, the potential reward was much higher than the risk. Now, Austin will be called upon to lead a group of receivers with or without Josh Gordon in the mix. Austin and fellow veteran Nate Burleson have shown why they've had successful NFL careers so far in camp; Austin has proven to be a reliable target for the inexperienced quarterbacks on the roster.
As a player on the Cleveland Browns' roster, coming into this year's training camp meant having to fight for a spot on the 53-man roster. These players have a new coaching staff and front office to impress, and although technically the final roster isn't completed until final cuts, the Browns have a large number of players who find themselves on the bubble. Expect Cleveland to give the bubble players increased opportunities to be separated.
One of the key reasons why the Browns hired Mike Pettine to be the team's head coach is because of his defensive scheme with the Buffalo Bills a year ago. Pettine has always been a top defensive coordinator, but last year he was able to create packages that allowed lesser-known defenders to come up with high sack totals. Cleveland's defenders have the agility Pettine is looking for, and the defense has created issues so far in camp.
As individuals, the Browns boast playmakers like Ben Tate, Jordan Cameron, Andrew Hawkins and possibly Josh Gordon. The offensive line includes Pro Bowlers Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, but early on in camp the offense has lacked the ability to take care of the ball and produce quality drives. This could be attributed to the aggressiveness of the defense and/or unfamiliarity of the offense, but Kyle Shanahan must get the offense up to speed quickly.
The Browns knew exactly what they were getting when they traded up for the former Heisman winner. Manziel brings an athleticism that is rarely seen with quarterbacks ,and his ability to make plays outside the pocket is what the buzz is about. During the team's official scrimmage, Manziel displayed his ability to scramble and orchestrated a 63-yard drive that nearly ended with six. He still hasn't shown he's capable of making plays with his arm.
Josh Gordon's appeal hearing wrapped up earlier this week, and now the Browns will be at the mercy of the NFL pertaining to whether their Pro Bowl receiver will be eligible at any point this season. For now, Gordon has run with the first team offense, but Cleveland received a glimpse into what the offense will look like if he's not available this season on Friday and Monday when Gordon was dealing with his appeal hearing.
Earlier in the offseason, Mike Pettine mentioned that veteran Brian Hoyer was "securely ahead" of Johnny Manziel, but that gap has since closed. The two quarterbacks were relatively even in their scrimmage performance, with Hoyer coming away looking a bit better. The second week of training camp has seen Manziel taking first-team reps to open practice, but Hoyer is expected to start the team's first preseason game with Manziel backing him up.
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