With training camp upon us, and my first child now brought into the world … it's time to get back to business.
I put out several calls to members of the Browns to try and get their thoughts on the start of training camp, knowing this is a tough time to get return calls as players enjoy their last days before two-a-days start. One guy I always get a call back from is third-year Browns safety Chris Crocker. Chris always provides great insight and solid interviews, and is an all-around good guy that I find it very easy to root for.
Crocker once again failed to disappoint, and we spent about thirty minutes Thursday night discussing a number of different subjects on the eve of training camp. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
Swerb: "Thanks again for taking the time Crock. Calm before the storm tonight with two-a-days starting tomorrow?"
Crocker: "The dog days, that's right. You can't count the days; you've just got to take ‘em one day at a time. We've been in working out all week though, and all off-season, so it's hard to think of it as the start of anything. It's our first camp under coach Crennel, and that makes it a little extra special, even going into two-a-days. And you can't forget about the four pre-season games either. But going into my third season, I kind of know what to expect."
Swerb: "Does working out all season, which most of the team did, and multiple minicamps make the transition to camp that much easier?"
Crocker: "It is a little different, and today's athletes take far less true time off than most did back in the day. I've been at Berea all week, and through a lot of the off-season. Also, I missed the last four games of last season, so I've been ready to go for some time now."
Swerb: "How different have this year's off-season workouts and minicamps been from the off-season program Butch had in place?"
Crocker: "It's been night and day. Coach Crennel doesn't baby sit the guys, there's no hidden agendas. He just treats you like a man. It's just a 360 degree change. It's just different. It's really hard to explain."
Swerb: "Everyone I've talked to has said how positive the vibe has been this off-season at Berea. Can things done in spring and early summer help translate to wins in the fall?"
Crocker: "It really has been. But to be honest, it was last year as well. We felt then, and we feel now that we have a good core group of guys, and that we are capable of doing some pretty good things. Even if you look back at last year, there were a lot of close losses and other games that we had a chance to go get in the 4th quarter. Every game counts in the NFL, and the line between winning and losing is a fine one. Every little thing you do, even in spring, can help contribute towards playing winning football."
Swerb: "Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is somewhat of an unknown to many Browns fans. What can you tell us about Grantham as a coach and his approach to playing defense?"
Crocker: "Man, he's high intensity. A man's man. Very tough minded approach to the game. Very intelligent. Not afraid to tell it how it is, or how he wants things done."
Swerb: "Higher intensity than Campo?"
Crocker: "Campo was higher strung. Grantham has just as high of an intensity level though."
Swerb: "Another new guy brought in is your new position coach Mel Tucker, who did some great work at Ohio St. under coach Tressel. He was rumored to potentially get a couple college jobs this off-season, and then ending up coming here to coach the DB's. How's Tucker's transition to the pro game been and how is he as a position coach?"
Crocker: "It's been great to get to know Mel. You can see why he was highly touted. It's his first time in the NFL, so he's adjusting too. He did a great job at Ohio State, and there's guys in the league now that came out of his program. He's a player's coach, and it's crucial to have a mix of player's coaches and more high intensity guys on any coaching staff."
Swerb: "Competition appears fierce at safety this year. Sean Jones is healthy, the team brought in Brian Russell and drafted Brodney Pool, and Michael Jameson and Michael Grant are back in camp as well. The official team depth chart has you listed as the starting free safety going into this your third season. Talk for a little bit about the competition at safety this year in camp."
Crocker: "You're right, and it's going to be a battle. Romeo addressed it right away, and said that the best players were going to play, and no one was guaranteed of anything. And that's all you can ask and hope for. I'm going to go out there every day and compete, and may the best man win. My goal is to go in as a starter, and to come out as a starter. The competition will be stronger, and that will only make me better. Not only at safety, but at corner as well. The defensive backs feel very good about the core group we have, and what we have the ability to accomplish this year. We feel pretty good about what we've done as a unit the last couple years. We're not looking for the spotlight though. We're going to go out there and do our job without being flamboyant and by being blue collar workers and bring the hardhats. The fans here expect effort, and if we don't get it done, they're going to stop coming. We've been through a lot here, we really have. And you can see things starting to turn."
Swerb: "How's the bicep injury that caused you to miss the last four games last year?"
Crocker: "It healed up real well. I've fully tested it, and it's been ready to go."
Swerb: "Any young guys that may be off the radar that Browns fans should keep an eye on in training camp?"
Crocker: "A wide receiver by the name of Rideau. Don't even know his first name. From Kansas."
Swerb: "Brandon Rideau?"
Crocker: "That's him. He has a lot of talent, and really opened some eyes during the minicamps. He's real big, has good speed, and is technically sound. He's a ballplayer, there's no doubt about that."
Crocker: "They both are talented. Especially Cribbs. It's crazy seeing him at receiver. It's a weird transition. He was real good at Kent."
Swerb: "As a safety, are there a lot of differences between what you do and how you operate in a 3-4 versus a 4-3?"
Crocker: "Not too much. When you look around, at the history of the game, and really just look at secondaries … you can't run with a huge amount of different coverages. No matter if you're in a 3-4 or a 4-3, the coverages are still the same. You still have your man to man and zone sets, but there's a lot of new terminology."
Swerb: "Watching Romeo's defense in New England these last few years, it seemed like he was very creative with his safeties, blitzing them a lot, and lining them up all over the field. Is it safe to say we'll see more of that here this year?"
Crocker: "I think so. When facing a 3-4, the opposing QB has to account for all four of those linebackers. When you bring a safety up into the mix, that makes it a whole different ball game. And you have to do that sometimes. To throw offenses off and to let them know you have that in your package. And then they have to prepare for that. I really think we are going to mix it up and work a lot of creative stuff into our base."
Crocker: "That's tough for me to do. They're both real good players. Pretty similar too. Anthony's still a good friend of mine, so it's hard for me to say that one is a better player than the other. But they are kind of similar. Both veteran guys, good size and cover skills. It was tough to see Ant go, but you can't be upset with bringing in a guy like Gary, who is a very good player in his own right. And Savage was familiar with him from over in Baltimore."
Swerb: "I know you're a big game tape guy. Have you watched a lot of tape this off-season? And if so, of who?"
Crocker: "Oh yes. That's something I am big on. Watched a lot of different tape. I remember the last time we talked; we talked about all the tape I watched of the playoff teams. And I focused this off-season on film of teams that ran a 3-4, teams that ran a lot of what we're likely to do. Not only just breaking it down, but really trying to understand what they're trying to do to an offense. A lot of Pittsburgh, New England, and Houston."
Swerb: "How's Sean Jones doing? And how's he looked?"
Crocker: "He's looked good. He's ready; he's been ready for some time. So have I."
Swerb: "Sean's probably perceived more as a strong safety. Is the team looking at the safeties in camp as two groups, strong and free safeties, or more as interchangeable parts?"
Crocker: "The two best safeties will play, that's been made clear. Doesn't matter how big, how small. We don't have a prototype 6'3 230 lb strong safety, so that's how we're approaching it. Also, the game has changed. It's become more of a speed, agility, and strength game unlike the past, when most teams targeted a more prototypical big strong safety. The two best guys that give us a chance to win will be in there."
Swerb: "You're known as a big hitter and a sure tackler. Any chance of you ever evolving into that prototype strong safety you speak of later in your career?"
Crocker: "I don't think so. That really hasn't crossed my mind because I really like the weight I'm at now. I don't want to be that guy that's always in the box even though I love to hit. I like to move around and do a number of different things in the secondary. Special teams come into play also. And I love to contribute on special teams. If you keep your weight down, you also have less injuries, and you can do more for your club."