BEREA, Ohio -- The duo of Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner are known for using the tight end significantly in their style of offense. They are also known for turning out some pretty good tight ends.
That's why at least on the surface it appeared they were taking a big risk at not retaining or adding a proven productive tight end.
The Browns chose to let Ben Watson and Alex Smith to leave during free agency. Watson caught 154 passes the past three seasons for 1,674 yards for the Browns, including eight touchdowns. Smith was primarily used as a blocking tight end.
Jordan Cameron said he learned a lot about playing tight end at the NFL level from Watson and Smith, especially with little playing experience at the college level.
"I think it was definitely a learning experience with Ben and Alex here," he said "They helped me on and off the field a lot to learn these skills and hone my technique. They did a good job of helping me, especially in the classroom and helping me prepare for games."
In 2013, it appears the Browns will employ the tight end by committee with the additions of unrestricted free agents Gary Barnidge and Kellen Davis.
However, it appears Cameron will be the lead dog. He is the holdover from last year's team, and has just 26 career receptions. He played in 14 games in 2012, including six starts and finished with 20 receptions for 226 yards (11.3 avg.) with one touchdown. His best game was when he caught five passes for 45 yards early in the season against the Bills. He caught his only touchdown pass against the Steelers.
Cameron is listed as the starter on the depth chart. He had a 30-yard reception from Brandon Weeden in the preseason opener as he caught a short crossing pass and ran down the sideline to the six-yard line to set up a touchdown.
Chudzinski is pleased with Cameron's progress.
“He’s improved quite a bit," he said. "I think he is getting a better understanding and more comfortable with the offense. He’s a guy that has potential that you see. He has playmaking ability and he’s improved as a run blocker. He’ll continue to develop and I think (tight end coach) Jon Embree has done a really nice job with him.”
In practice Sunday, Cameron took a pass from Weeden and scored from 25 yards out. He thinks he's absorbing the offense pretty well. He's been making plays consistently throughout training camp
"I think it's going good," Cameron said. "It's a lot of work putting this new offense in. The goal is just to get better every day and work on something new and just try to master that."
Cameron (6-5, 252) is anticipating being involved in the offense in a big way. He knows the background of both Chudzinski and Turner.
"The way they use the tight end in this offense is that the tight end is used a lot and is put in positions to create mismatches with linebackers," he said. "They use us a lot and it's just a matter of mismatches and they know how to create those and we trust that they know what they're doing. They're proven, so it helps a lot to put the confidence in them."
Cameron feels every day is a growing experience and could still be considered a work in progress. He had a pass go off his hands that was caught by Greg Little in the first preseason game.
"I'm not anywhere near where I need to be, but like I said as long as I progress everyday with (the coach's) teaching," he said. "They know what they're doing as they're proven play callers, so it helps us as players when you know the coaches and what they tell you is going to work and like when Coach Norv or Jon Embree tells you to do something that it translates on the field the next day and it does exactly what they said it would. It helps us as players knowing that they know what they're doing."
When the Browns drafted Cameron in the fourth-round of the 2011 draft out of USC, then GM Tom Heckert talked about envisioning the mismatches the former basketball player at Brigham Young would create. Cameron wasn't even a starter at USC and caught just 16 passes his last year in college--not exactly fourth-round numbers for a projected receiver at the NFL level.
Cameron said he's learned to be one of the quarterback's best friends on the field.
"You just have to be quarterback friendly and put leverage on the defender to come back for the ball," he said. "You can't round out routes because (the defender) will come around you or cut underneath you. You just have to be quarterback friendly.
"It's just habits that me and coach work on every day on getting back to the quarterback and not letting the guy undercut you."
Many former basketball players have blossomed at the NFL level as tight ends, including Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham. Cameron said basketball did help him prepare for his current position
"I wasn't that good (at basketball)," he laughter. "But, I think it helps mainly in body control. There is a lot of moving laterally and movement in space, as well and even boxing out a defender on the goal line or in the red zone. We do a lot of that, just using your body to create mismatches."
Cameron still plays basketball in the off-season.
"It helps to stay in shape and running up and down the court helps keep you fluid."
One of Cameron's perceived weaknesses coming into the NFL was that he had never been asked to block much.
"Every day we're working with Coach Embree doing a lot of sled work," he said. "If you saw our individual work we spend about 25 minutes on sleds and footwork, steps and technique and it's just a matter of progressing every day and just trying to get better every day and every week."
Another knock on Cameron is he seems to have a tough time staying on the field. During the OTAs and minicamp, he was sidelined with a groin and hamstring pull. He missed the final two games of the 2012 with a concussion after finally getting a chance to get more playing time.
"As a young player, you're trying to learn your body and learn how it works," he said. "When you get injured, what's tweaked or what you have to do to take care of it. It's just a matter of playing and understanding what's hurt at the time. Working with the training staff helps a lot because they know what they're doing. You just have to learn your body as a young player you have to get your body right in the off-season, so it's been beneficial the last two months."
Hardesty Hurt Again: RB Montario Hardesty suffered another setback as he injured his right thumb taking a direct snap from the center . Hardesty had just returned to practice on Sunday after missing most of the past two weeks with a hamstring tendon injury. He was just returning to team drills and on the second play, he reached up for the snap and it appeared to catch his thumb. The trainers taped it up and applied ice and then he was taken to the locker room moments later.
Chudzinski had no more details other than that, but said he will update his status on Tuesday. He did say that it has been a bit of bad luck for Hardesty thus far.
"It's a tough deal, but we'll see what his status is."
Chudzinski was just asked on Sunday if Hardesty had enough time to make up for the time he had missed with the hamstring injury. After practice Monday, Chudzinski said it was too early to speculate.
"It's too early to say that (he's too far behind," he said. "Let's just see when he comes back."
RB Dion Lewis and RB Brandon Jackson have been receiving most of the reps in Hardesty's place and if he's out for extended time, it will seriously hurt his chances of being non the roster.
Owens, Norwood Back: The Browns are getting some of their injured players back as CB Chris Owens (foot), WR Jordan Norwood (hamstring) and OL Oniel Cousins (ankle) returned to the field.
Chudzinski said that Owens was further ahead than the others.
"Chris Owens was able to get some team work in."
Injury Update: WR David Nelson (knee), FB Brock Bolen (calf), DL Hall Davis (hamstring) and DB Leon McFadden (groin) rode the stationary bikes before practice and worked on the side. OL Ryan Miller (head) is still out as is OL Shawn Lauvao (ankle). LB D'Qwell Jackson was not injured but was just rested during team drills. LB L.J. Fort was in during the team drills for Jackson.
Punt, Pass, Kick: Browns players will host about 100 kids from the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland at the NFL Punt, Pass and Kick event as part of the Play 60 movement on Tuesday Aug. 13 at 2 p.m. at the Browns training facility. Browns players helping out are DL Kendrick Adams, DB Johnson Bademosi, DB Trevin Wade, LB L.J. Fort , LB James-Michael Johnson, LB Jabaal Sheard and WR Jordan Norwood.