The Cleveland Browns have finally wrapped up their interstate training camp tour. Saturday’s game in Kansas City marks the end of the preseason, and by Tuesday the Browns must trim their roster to the regular-season size of 53.
It was quite a journey. The Browns spent nine days at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. They had planned to hold eight public practices at their home training facility, but the weather caused the last two to be moved inside and away from fans. Cleveland also spent five days in Philadelphia, the two most important of those being full-speed joint practice sessions versus the Eagles.
It was all part of an extended camp itinerary that included the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio, the NFL’s annual first (and extra) preseason game. Now, just short of five weeks from their first gathering, the Browns are prepared to break camp and proceed to the next stage of their regular-season preparation.
As he always does, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski ran a deliberate camp. Stefanski’s Browns prioritize details and instruction over full-speed competition on most days. They space out their days in full pads and carefully plan situational work involving the starters. Most of the regulars did not play at all in the first and third preseason games.
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There was one constant through the various practice locations and tempos: Myles Garrett was unblockable. Pads or no pads, elevation or no elevation, Garrett looked to be in the backfield just about any time he wanted to be.
“It looks like that because he is,” Stefanski said earlier this week. The head coach stopped short of confirming that all of my other training camp observations were 100 percent accurate, but they were.
“I don’t know about (Garrett being more disruptive) than he was in previous seasons,” Stefanski said. “(But) he’s a pain in the butt for the offense, and we know that with teams that we go against. They give him plenty of attention. They want to know where he’s going to line up. They’re going to try and put a tight end over there as much as possible. So, he gets a ton of attention from defenses, but he’s playing at a high level right now and he’s got to continue on that progression.”
Most days, Garrett was lined up against Browns left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. Over the last two weeks of camp, we saw the Browns put in more of their pass-down packages, and it’s evident — but still evolving — that new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will move both Garrett and Za’Darius Smith to different spots in certain situations.
In camp, though, it didn’t matter if it was Wills, backup James Hudson III or another offensive lineman drawing the individual matchup with Garrett. There were two different dropbacks for Deshaun Watson on Sunday in which Garrett basically was at Watson’s spot before Watson was.
“I pray for everybody else he has to go against,” Wills said.
Wills didn’t make the all-camp team, but he said his time working versus Garrett “definitely” made him better.
“It’s (frustrating) but you have to look at the good things you do,” Wills said. “There’s always a reason why he’ll win, but he’s just good at what he does. I kind of have to look at the things that I do well and what I can fix to kind of put myself in a competition to block him. And especially when I do win, I mean, you got to look at the things that I do well. Just look at what he does too. So it’s a mental thing that you’ve kind of got to focus on.”
In keeping with the theme of the nomadic camp, all of my first-team all-camp selections will be invited to an awards banquet at Shoney’s in Lewisburg, W.Va., located just one exit from the Greenbrier. All second-teamers will get a gift certificate for an authentic Philly cheesesteak of their liking, and all third-teamers will get a certificate of completion and free parking at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
*All prizes subject to change.
Myles Garrett, DE: He’s so talented that it’s difficult to place fair expectations upon him. He’s coming off consecutive 16-sack seasons, and I think it’s fair to expect more.
David Njoku, TE: He was open and caught almost everything all summer, which is big given that consistency has arguably been his main issue. The Browns have kept investing in Njoku and have long awaited a true sustained breakout. All indications are that it could finally be coming. His connection with Watson is apparent (and seemingly growing).
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Austin Watkins Jr., WR: The full squad reported to camp on July 21. Watkins wasn’t officially added to the roster until July 22, but he started making impressive catches shortly thereafter. He’s caught 15 passes in three preseason games, two for touchdowns, and rarely did he go two camp days without making a circus catch. I don’t know if he’ll make the team, but he’s put himself in the discussion.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB: The rookie has conducted himself like a six-year pro in the preseason, and he’s impressed the Browns with his poise and willingness to compete since he arrived in May. He may or may not someday get back to Canton, but he’s on a nice track with a team looking for a long-term backup.
Martin Emerson Jr., CB: Last summer, it was quickly evident that Emerson was talented. This summer, it was obvious that Emerson had gained both confidence and experience from his strong rookie season. His one-on-one work against A.J. Brown in the joint practices was basically must-see Twitter TV, and he still has room to grow.
Dawand Jones, OT: The rookie missed a couple of camp days early, but he settled in nicely. He’s still probably more of a developmental prospect than anything else at this point, but in the preseason games, he showed off his brute strength. When Jones gets his hands on a rusher, that rusher is in deep trouble.
Denzel Ward, CB: He’s just so smooth, and Ward seemed to play with a bit of an edge in July and August. Really, all three of the Browns’ top cornerbacks were impressive in camp. Greg Newsome II just missed some time for precautionary reasons after suffering a groin injury in early August.
Ronnie Hickman Jr., S: There’s probably no better way for an undrafted rookie to make a summer impression than to pick off three passes in a span of two preseason games. Hickman could help the Browns at some point this season, and we’ll soon know if he’s going to be on the practice squad or the active roster.
Nick Chubb, RB: Camp is not really the best environment for appreciating what makes Chubb special, but his talents are obvious. He’s always in incredible shape, and though most camp highlights come via impressive catches, Chubb still took some runs a long way. Look for him to run with anger (again) when the season begins.
Za’Darius Smith, DE: He showed up in great shape and often showed up in the backfield. This Browns’ pass rush could be scary, and Cleveland added Smith in May because it thinks he can both help free up Garrett and rack up a bunch of sacks himself.
Elijah Moore, WR: He sat out the Eagles practices or he likely would have been in a higher tier. Moore might have led camp in highlight-reel catches, but either way, it’s obvious that he’s going to be heavily involved in the offense. He’ll line up everywhere, and he looks explosive enough to be the kind of versatile, level-raising player the Browns hope he can eventually become.
Mohamoud Diabate, LB: This undrafted rookie quickly earned the chance to play on some of the first special teams units, which is a pretty good way of identifying a player who’s earned the respect of his coaches. Then Diabate crashed through the line versus the Eagles and forced a safety. Now, can he force his way onto the 53-man roster? Watch him closely on Saturday in Kansas City.
Lonnie Phelps, DE: Another undrafted rookie who’s shown promise, Phelps likely is headed for the practice squad after more than occasionally showing up around the quarterback in camp.
Maurice Hurst, DT: He celebrates big plays by joyfully rubbing his belly. Personal bias here, but I can both relate and appreciate it.
Michael Dunn, OL: Did you see him stone that blitzer in the Eagles game last week? It was like one of the cartoon collisions that sends one guy flying. Dunn used camp to solidify his roster spot and make Cleveland feel even better about its offensive line depth.
Cameron Mitchell, CB: Starting on about the sixth day of camp, Mitchell went on a three-week run of either directly forcing a turnover or showing up around the ball when a big play was happening. He’s definitely going to make the team, and the improvement he showed through the offseason should give coaches confidence that he’s worth further development.
(Top photo: Nick Cammett / Diamond Images via Getty Images)