It was a definite tip-off, but for whatever reason, no one -- absolutely no one -- paid any attention to it.
While all the so-called experts had the Browns picking this player or that players if they stayed at No. 5 overall in last weekend’s NFL Draft, or players A, B or C if they traded out of the choice, no one had the Browns taking a center with their first-round pick in any scenario.
And that’s exactly what the Browns did, of course, when, after trading down three separate times, they took center Alex Mack from Cal at No. 21 overall.
Now with Mack and two-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas at left tackle, the Browns feel they have talented players at the two most important positions on the offensive line. A center solidifies the middle of the line and makes all the blocking calls, and the left tackle protects the quarterback’s blind side.
That’s exactly what new Browns head coach Eric Mangini did in 2006, in his first season as head coach of the New York Jets. He had two first-round selections and used them to take first D’Brickashaw Ferguson, a left tackle from Virginia, and then center Nick Mangold from Ohio State and Kettering, Ohio.
“Not that the other positions on the offensive line aren’t important, but when we took ‘Brick’ and Nick that year, we felt we had gotten two pillars of the line for a long time,” Mangini said Saturday as the team’s rookie minicamp continued. “I don’t regret that decision at all in New York. I think those guys are going to be outstanding players for years to come.
“Now here, with Joe and Alex, we have two really good-quality young players. One (Thomas) has proven he can play in the NFL at a high level. The other one is trying to prove it.”
And that proof for Mack began to come this weekend.
IT TAKES TWO: Mangini said wide receivers Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi, both drafted in the second round, are benefiting from coming in as rookies together. “Their friendship is building,” the coach said. “They are pushing each other, but in a positive way. It’s a good situation for them to come into with two players at the same position.”
MORE ON ROBISKIE: He’s wearing his old number from Ohio State, 80. That, of course, is the number formerly worn on the Browns by tight end Kellen Winslow, who, of course, was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the offseason. In addition, Winslow’s old locker is now property of Brady Quinn, who is dressing apart from the other quarterbacks.
MORE ON THE LOCKER ROOM: It is being greatly expanded and renovated, of course, as the room that formerly served as the players lounge will become part of the locker room. Plastic sheeting is draped over the top of the row of lockers on that side of the room.
LOCAL GUYS, TAKE TWO: Also in camp as free agents are offensive lineman Brandon Braxton from Oklahoma and Youngstown Ursuline High School, defensive lineman Adam Hoppel from Cincinnati and Lisbon David Anderson High School, tight end Mike Massey from Michigan and Cleveland St. Ignatius High School (he’s a native of Brecksville) and defensive back Bryan Williams of Akron and Akron Buchtel High School. In as an invitee is Williams’ teammate at Akron, running back Andrew Johnson.
LET’S GET PHYSICAL: If what is going on this weekend is any indication, then expect Browns training camp to be physical -- very physical. This has been the most physical rookie minicamp the club has had in years, or maybe even ever. The Browns run a tackling drill where, in a 20- by 15-yard sectioned-off area, a running back takes the ball and charges toward a defender coming from the other direction. There has been no tackling this weekend, but a lot of bumping -- more so than ever before in one of these camps. Mangini said when he was with the New York Jets, that drill was run every day during training camp -- in full pads and with full contact. Except the same here. Stay tuned. And buckle those chinstraps.
THE NAME GAME: There are no less than three players with the last name of Johnson in camp on a tryout basis. One of them has the first name of Eddie. Yes, Eddie Johnson, but not, of course, the late great Eddie “The Assassin” Johnson, the big-hearted Browns linebacker from 1981-89. This Eddie Johnson is from Utah and led the nation in punting as a junior. Funny thing, though, at 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, he’s bigger than the linebacker. … Another invitee is Ohio State defensive lineman David Patterson.
SCOREBOARD, SCOREBOARD: The Browns erected a new scoreboard on the back of team headquarters, just above the “small” door leading into their indoor practice field. It’s something many high schools have at their football stadium. The two “teams” listed are White and Brown. For whatever it’s worth -- or whatever it means -- White had a 2-0 “lead” in the first 45 minutes of practice -- individual drills -- that the media was allowed to watch.
SIGNS OF THE TIMES: Painted on one of the practice fields is the word “Trust.” On the outside of the team headquarters is this saying: “The will to succeed is nothing without the will to win.”
QUOTABLES: “If they don’t, they will.” -- Mangini when asked if all his players have Skype, a form of videoconferencing that can be done through computers. The coach hopes to use that to keep in contact with his players when they’re not at Browns headquarters.
“I will be sitting in my office and my computer -- not my phone -- will ring, and it will be Julie (his wife) and the boys and we can talk through the screen. There’s a camera on both sides. It’s great. It’s fantastic.” -- Mangini with more on Skype.
“I might have eaten too much.” -- invitee Joseph Thompson, an offensive lineman from Abilene Christian, rolling his eyes and rubbing his stomach as he returned to the locker room from the cafeteria at lunchtime.