There was again a nice crowd for the Sunday afternoon session at training camp, although it was noticeably smaller than Friday's group and most of the big tents are down.
Still, it's a nice-sized group of fans.
Having a media pass is helpful because journalistic low-lifes are allowed to sneak in under the rope and sit on the edge of the field rather than craning for a good view from the back of the crowd.
While the ostensible reason for this is to provide writers with a better view, it's always in the back of my mind that Gerard Warren or Paul Zukauskas might be sent on a kamikaze mission to "accidentally" leap into the midst the press corps and wipe us out in the event of negative press coverage.
I also always worry that I'm inconveniencing folks who sit on the bleachers and blocking their view, so I usually try to mash myself into the smallest available volume. This is not a simple task for a man in the deep headlock grip of middle age.
I have to admit, though, that covering the team on a daily basis has its perks. A nice seat is one of them, and the least I can do is share with you everything I was able to see.
Today, the good view allows me to see clearly that LaTarence Dunbar is having a bad day.
As usual, practice began with the units involved in individual drills. The wide receiver drills typically get the most attention from fans and the media, simply because they're fun to watch.
The second-year vet from Texas Christian has been brought in, or so I suspect, because of his kick return skills. I haven't had a chance to see him return kicks, and the writers I talked to weren't sure if he returned any the previous day.
Dunbar's pass catching skills appear suspect, though, as the Sunday practice gets underway. Perhaps nervous, the 2003 sixth-round choice by the Falcons drops four or five passes in a row during receiving drills. After a few drops, the crowd starts shouting encouragement, and Dunbar responds by motioning to fans to pump up the volume. He finally pulls one down (a very nice catch over his head) and the crowd explodes with applause.
Dunbar gets "adopted" by the crowd through the afternoon, frequently getting applause whenever he gets a catch. The string of dropped passes isn't repeated.
While the receivers run short routes and snare passes, the running backs are doing drills similar to the ones I described during the May/June quarterback school. This day, however, the overturned trash cans that they are running through are supplemented by fullbacks holding square pads. Ben Miller and Corey McIntyre are the obstacles.
The team's offensive linemen also are running drills. At this point, we can see that Ross Verba's left hand is heavily bandaged, as is his right. Verba had broken a thumb on his left hand, but is on the field and participating in drills. Later he tells reporters that it's no big deal, because he "holds with his right hand".
The left side of the line participates in drills, starters Verba and Beasley first, following by Enoch DeMar and Scot Osborne. Other challengers for the LG job are elsewhere. Craig Osika and Melvin Fowler work with Jeff Faine, and Paul Zukauskas is working on the other side with the Kelvin Garmon and the right tackles.
Seven On Sevens
At this point, the team moves to the other side of the field to start on some seven-on-seven scrimmaging. The press corps gets up and trudges around to the other side of the field.
I make sure to walk near Mary Kay Cabot, because I figure I'm less likely to have things thrown at me that way. For some reason, I'm a frequent target for people hurling rocks and garbage. I have been my whole life. I can't explain it.
By the time we get there, the third unit is scrimmaging. In this case, that involves TE Chad Mustard (whose fan club is again audible), QB Luke McCown, RB Dee Brown, and FB Corey McIntyre. The defensive line, which I'm guessing is the third team as well, consists of Felipe Claybrooks, Cedric Scott, John Nix, and Jamal Reynolds.
One memorable moment is seeing massive OT Sterling Harris come out to put a block on smallish LB Josh Buhl. Proving any remaining doubters of Newtonian physics correct, Harris pushes Buhl flattens the much smaller Buhl.
When the first team comes back out, I'm surprised to see Aaron Shea at TE. He also appears when the third team comes out, so I'm assuming the TEs are in some sort of rotation with both Winslow and Heinrich unavailable. Shea makes a number of catches on the day and does little to confirm the common notion that it will be tough for him to make the roster. The remaining TEs, including Heiden, Sanders, and Mustard, are also taking advantage of the extra reps and look good catching the ball all day.
Chaun Thompson and Andra Davis are doing what head coach Butch Davis says he's been glad to see this year. They both fly to the ball. After practice, we talked to Kevin Bentley (audio file to be posted later today) and he tells us that the second year in Campo's offense is much easier since it's more ingrained and the linebackers can react more instinctively. It's familiarity shows itself in the appearance of improved speed by the linebackers.
After the linebackers swoop in on the second play, defensive coordinator Dave Campo exhorts players on the sidelines to be more vocal: "Come on... this is our team!"
When the second unit comes onto the field, Kelly Holcomb is looking at Andre King, Frisman Jackson, and Dennis Northcutt as his receivers. Nick Maddox is pushing his way up the depth chart, and comes out early while the second unit is on the field. He grabs a pass and turns the right corner on the first play.
When the third unit comes out, WR Eddie Galles, who I had figured to be an early cut based on the initial QB school practices, continues to show improvement. He holds onto a McCown pass about fifteen yards from the line of scrimmage. On the next play, Chad Mustard grabs a pass and the massive TE rumbles through the middle of the field. McCown tries to throw long to Jason Geathers, but Michael Grant stays with him and breaks up the pass.
When the first unit returns, Chaun Thompson gets upset by a missed opportunity and Dave Campo immediately runs onto the field to talk to his starting strongside linebacker. Garcia throws a couple of short passes, one to William Green and another to TE Darnell Sanders.
Within about ten minutes of each other, both QB Kelly Holcomb and WR Andre Davis jog off the field. Holcomb returns, but Davis does not. Davis is not noticeably limping as he leaves the field, although we're told later by Butch Davis that he has a turned ankle.
Special Teams Drills
The Browns break up again for special teams drills, at least on the closest side of the field.
If you ever get a chance to watch training camp, don't come expecting to be bored by a seeing a lot of repetition. The coaching staff moves the team quickly through a series of drills, and you can watch players practicing all kinds of different techniques. Even when the team is not scrimmaging, it's more interesting to watch these drills than you might suspect.
The defensive linemen are practicing getting up into the air to block a pass or kick. The drill has them hitting a blocking sled and then jumping up to block a volleyball tossed in the air by one of the punters or kickers. Gerard Warren does not show a Jordanesque ability to stay in the air, but Ebenezer Ekuban is able to get pretty far off the ground.
Meanwhile, the team is running some blocking drills where a designated player runs around the lines clashing at the line of scrimmage and jumps in the air to block a kick. The team has a nice, thick pad for the leapers to land on. Among the designated blockers are Dennis Northcutt, Kentrell Curry, Michael Grant and David Young. Curry, in particular, looks effective in getting to the ball.
Another drill involves defenders starting in a three point stance, moving under a stick held about three feet off the ground, and grabbing a rag a few feet behind the line of scrimmage. The player eyes a football on the end of a stick about four feet to his right, and takes off as soon as the ball moves, runs under the stick and grabs the rag with one hand.
Full Squad Scrimmage
The practice ended with a full-squad scrimmage, which always seems to put a little more charge in the air as the contact gets a little more physical and the crowd starts buzzing.
On the third play, the Browns again get Green and Suggs on the field at the same time and try to run a play similar to one they ran the day before. Kenard Lang, however, jumps offside and the play is nixed. Dave Campo finds the positive: "I love the enthusiasm, but we can't go off-sides", he shouts.
Garcia then hands off to William Green who finds a seam and bolts through. Defenders aren't tackling in these scrimmages and a coach shouts "let him run" as Green flies to the end zone. On the final play from the first unit, Ebenezer Ekuban comes onto the field and it appears that the team has three defensive ends on the play. Garcia winds up running with the ball after the rush comes in at him.
The second unit, with the offense led by Kelly Holcomb, then comes onto the field. Ekuban shows up again, this time knocking into Nick Maddox as he tries to run with the ball.
The second-team offensive line really seems to be struggling. On the next play Michael Jameson flies in and would have been able to slam Holcomb to the turf if it was a game situation. Fortunately, the safety pulls up as a the crowd talks about the second straight play where the offensive line wasn't able to keep pace. Later, Holcomb finds Andre King, who is tightly covered by Ben Taylor.
When the third unit comes in, we once again see DT Cedric Scott getting good penetration. He's been doing very well in these scrimmages over the past several days. McCown, however, finds Jason Geathers, who was in motion at the snap. McCown later gets intercepted by S David Gibson.
The first team comes back in, and William Green gets a handoff on the first play, followed by a pass play where Garcia scrambles and then finds Steve Heiden again. The third play features are real nice juke by Lee Suggs at the line of scrimmage, enabling him to blast through into the secondary.
Garcia, however, is picked off on the fourth play by LB Kevin Bentley who runs the ball back, closely followed by Earl Little begging for a lateral. On the final play by the first unit, DT Orpheus Roye busts through to screw up a handoff to Lee Suggs. Suggs and Green are still getting about the same number of reps with the first unit.
As the units rotate through for another two series of plays, a few moments stand out:
- With the second unit, RB Nick Maddox finds himself stuffed at the line, but moves horizontally and finds a gap to squeeze through.
- New RB Dee Brown gets a couple of runs and looks solid, if unspectacular.
- Corey Jackson is getting some time with the second unit. He appears to have moved ahead of Claybrooks.
- The most contact of the day probably comes with the third unit as McCown tosses the ball to Nick Maddox, who runs straight into LB Sherrod Coates. No one hits the turf, but the impact sounds fairly impressive.
- There are two straight fumbles on handoffs, and later Butch Davis tells us that the team is concerned about Osika short-arming the ball, although he notes that the center is having to snap to a number of different QBs
- CJ Jones gets the most notable drop of the day as he isn't able to hold onto a pass thrown middle of the chest by McCown.
- Chaun Thompson makes a very nice play near the end of practice, rushing past his blocker to charge at the quarterback and getting his long arms in the air to block the pass. He's unable to get those long arms working together to pull in the football, however, which drops harmlessly to the ground.
- For the second time in three days, practice ends with a defensive lineman blasting into the backfield to make a play. Today, it's Alvin McKinley who makes the noise on the final scrimmage play.