Browns End of Minicamp Wrap Up

Cleveland Browns Danny Shelton at Browns rookie mini camp. (Joshua Gunter/ Northeast Ohio Media Group) Friday, May 8, 2015. Berea, Ohio.

Cleveland Browns Danny Shelton at Browns rookie mini camp. (Joshua Gunter/ Northeast Ohio Media Group) Friday, May 8, 2015. Berea, Ohio.

With mini camp wrapping up this week its officially vacation time for the NFL, until everybody returns for Training Camp in August. Some may recall a piece I did summarizing 5 stories to watch for after the first week of OTAs. Now that mini camp has ended let’s take a look at some of the things we’ve learned.

The Run Defense: DT Danny Shelton, the 12th overall pick in this year’s draft, was finally permitted to join the team for mini camp. Shelton was excluded from OTAs as he had not yet graduated university. Though coaches had been in constant contact with the massive lineman, the concern was how quickly he would be able to catch up physically and mentally. According to head coach Mike Pettine, while Shelton took up MMA to stay in shape, it is clearly no substitute for the work done by those who had been participating at the team facility. That is to be expected but it was encouraging to see him embracing teammates and leaning on them for knowledge. He named fellow defensive tackles Billy Winn and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen among others as early mentors. The defensive unit has set the tone thus far in the offseason. Fellow rookie DT Xavier Cooper has been effective against the run, as well as LB Scott Solomon.  Shelton will be relied upon heavily to get up to speed as the season approaches to help anchor the Browns last place run defense.

The Secondary: Staying on the defensive side of the ball, starting FS Tashaun Gipson ended his holdout and signed the 2nd round tender placed on him. It was a very welcome sight to see him show up for mini camp, though Pettine stated it was “disappointing” that he showed up with a minor hamstring injury and did not participate.  It remains a priority of the Ray Farmer and company to reach a long term deal with the Pro Bowl safety before he leaves via free agency next year, but his presence at minicamp is a definite relief. The staple of a Mike Pettine defense is a strong secondary. The crowded DB room has looked very impressive thus far, with even players at the bottom of the depth chart looking like potential starters. Not to mention last year’s first round pick Justin Gilbert is back looking more focused and in better shape. With a healthy Gipson resuming his role, this could be the best secondary in the NFL.

The Receivers: Moving from the stellar DB’s to the players they are asked to cover; the wide receivers. The popular opinion among national media is that the Browns’ passing attack is a makeshift unit comprised of has “beens” and “unproven youngsters”. To be fair, that is exactly what it looks like on the surface. But mini camp told a slightly different story.  Coaches have lauded Dwayne Bowe for his ability to use size and veteran savvy to make plays.  Brian Hartline has looked good as well and should allow Andrew “Hawk” Hawkins to move back to his natural position in the slot.  Also, according to Browns Daily’s Nathan Zegura, upstart 2nd year receiver Taylor Gabriel is the team’s best receiver.  Going against Joe Haden in practice every day has got to help one’s route running. They also still have Travis Benjamin and Marlon Moore fighting for spots and both possess deep ball speed. 4th round pick Vince Mayle is recovering from thumb surgery and has been taking mental reps, so he will have a steep hill to climb into the starting rotation this year. OC John “Flip” Defilippo has been putting a lot on the receiver’s plate early; lining them up in multiple spots to create mismatches. However it stands to reason that once the season commences Bowe and Hartline will likely see most of their action on the outside. Keep an eye out once Mandatory training camp starts because outside of Bowe, and Hawk the competition could actually be a lot more intense then the masses think it will.

The Tight Ends/Fullbacks: There hasn’t been much noise either way regarding the TE group. Rob Housler remains the main passing threat of the group with the others primarily blocking. However it is worth noting that serious value is being placed on the receiving ability of the FB.

The Backs: Duke Johnson is everywhere! As the last Cleveland Browns rookie to sign his contract, “The Duke” wasted no time asserting himself as one of the team’s most potent weapons. He has lined up at almost every skill position so far from kick returner to RB, and made plays at all of them. It’s encouraging to see that he appears to be as advertised. He should add a great dimension to a potentially underwhelming offense. This is especially true since there is such an emphasis on throwing to the backs this year. There were reports of friction in the RB room last year.  However this year has been different. There is cohesiveness. The trio of Duke, Isaiah Crowell, and Terrence West look to thrive behind a dominant offensive line.

The Offensive Line: Much like the tight end group, this is really par for the course. The line is solid and everybody has maintained their positions thus far. That is, of course, with the exception of 19th overall pick Cameron Erving. He’s gotten reps at every position on the line but is currently penciled in to compete for the starting RG job with John Greco.  Greco has been taking the reps at Center while Alex Mack continues to recover from last year’s leg injury.

Special Teams: The Punt/Kick returner positions don’t appear to have a clear front-runner, though Duke Johnson has been added to that mix and may emerge as the favorite as the regular season approaches.

The Quarterbacks: And last, but not least, we have the QB non-competition. Johnny Manziel finally spoke to the media for the first time after his stint in rehab. He said the typical Johnny things about having to do better and grow up and even announced he is retiring the “money sign”.  I hope for his sake that’s all true. Except the money sign, I never had a problem with that, he just didn’t score enough touchdowns to justify it. However, it looks as though that may be too little too late because the staff seems all but decided on starting Josh McCown. McCown has been getting good reviews all offseason, so this is not a shock. I truly hope that Johnny comes into training camp driven and focused. McCown is a true Professional and seems to have a good grasp of the offense.  He has been and will continue to get majority of the first team reps.  If Johnny can’t find his way onto the field this year in favor of Josh McCown then it is unclear what the future holds for him. You have to think the Browns would be looking for a franchise signal caller next year.

Here are some of the biggest standouts from the offseason:

WR Taylor Gabriel:  Nathan Zegura and Matt Wilhelm of Cleveland Browns Daily actually called the undrafted second year man “the best receiver on the team.”

LB Scott Solomon: You don’t earn the nickname “Bloodbath” for no reason. I truly don’t know if Barkevious Mingo is going to get his job back.

RB Duke Johnson:  He was on the receiving end of Johnny’s only real “wow” throw so far.   He may end this year as the team’s best RB, WR and Returner all at the same time. No kidding.


Gipson to Sit out OTA’s: Big Deal or Not?

By: Brisco Brown

As take 2 of the Johnny Manziel saga is front and center on the minds of most concerning the Cleveland Browns today, another story is taking shape that may have just as big an impact. Starting Free Safety Tashaun Gipson has added his name to a list of notable starters (such as Adrian Peterson and Eric Weddle) who have made it publicly known that they do not intend to show up to OTA’s, which begin this week.  For the Cleveland Browns, the absence of Gipson(Gip) has caused mixed reactions.  Star Cornerback Joe Haden really doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal.  And maybe, hopefully, he’s right.  On the other hand Defensive Coordinator Jim O’neil said, Gip will have some “catching up to do.” Realistically, they could both be right.  Gip doesn’t have to show up until Mandatory training camp so maybe he’s just exercising his rights. However let’s take a deeper look into what this really means for the Browns.

Signed as an undrafted Free Agent out of Wyoming in 2012, Gipson has quickly become one of the key components of Cleveland’s talented secondary. In fact, former DC Ray Horton went as far as to call Gip the defense’s MVP.  Since that day in 2013 he has only improved his production, racking up 11 INT’s in the next 2 seasons despite missing the final 5 games of 2014.  Injured for over  1/4 of the season and finished with 6 INT’s. No, that’s not a typo.  Numbers like that are an obvious indication of how important he was to the team finishing 2nd in the league in passing takeaways. The Orange and Brown finished 7-9 last year despite the offenses late season collapse.  The Dawgpound found themselves cheering on a Playoff bound team in December, which hasn’t happened since Bush Jr. was in office.  No disrespect to Brian Hoyer or Miles Austin, but it’s fairly obvious the dominant play of the defense is what spearheaded that movement.  It’s well known that Head Coach Mike Pettine’s game plan hinges heavily on the play of his Defensive Backs.  Without a doubt he has earned the right to be paid as one of the top players at his position. Unfortunately for the Browns’ accountants, Gip knows that too.

The tipping point to this holdout was the 2nd round tender Ray Farmer and company placed on Gip after this season. The move was met with shock in some circles as Gip definitely played up to the level of a 1st round tender.  After no other teams attempted to poach him from the roster the decision seemed to be very wise on the part of the Browns front office. However Gip has refused to sign the tender, resulting in the stalemate they find themselves in.  If the deadline of June 15th passes without him signing, the organization can reduce the offer to 110% of his previous salary. That would equal out to about $627,000.00 in 2015.  That would be an economical win for them, but would not likely put a warm fuzzy feeling in Gip’s heart. Chances are he would be out the door in 2016 along with Center Alex  Mack, whom the Browns used a transition tag on last year and will be free to walk.  That would mean arguably the 2 most productive members of the team on either side of the ball could opt to leave.  Yes it’s a business, but that’s never a good scenario.  One could argue that an player of his athletic ability could be replaced in Coach Pettine’s system. Obviously the Browns feel that way at least to some extent. Its a valid point in from that angle.  Personally, I don’t share that view. His experience and production are invaluable. This defense is so close to taking that step up to the elite level, why disrupt that chemistry.

If the injury is a concern I can understand that. There is offset language you could put in his contract to protect yourself. you could front load the deal to allow your organization to opt out after a year or so.  The Browns have secured pillars like Joe Haden and Joe Thomas long term.  Due to the CBA whomever the QB of the future will be is going to be affordable, whether its Johnny or a rookie next year.  They have put themselves in a good financial position among the most Cap Space remaining among NFL teams.  When you’re taking the field opening day with Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel as you QB options, a few pick 6’s by your defense could probably help.  I guess what I’m trying to say is if the question is Big deal or not, I would have to say big deal.  And speaking of big deal… Gipson deserves one.  Pay that man!


What’s Up DawgPound Nation!

I’m Brisco Brown and this is my very first post welcoming everybody to Tha Brown Table. I’m going to be keeping you up to date with the latest news and notes on everything Cleveland Browms, as well as tracking the biggest stories in the world of NFL and NCAA. We’re going to have a lot of great debates and informative topics. Whether you’re a hardcore fanatic or just a casual fan, come on in and let’s chat. Things are looking up for this year for one of footballs most historic franchises.  The Hundred Years War continues but admit it… you can’t look away.  Me neither. See you soon. We Bark Together!