BEREA — Phil Dawson has quietly went about his business and has been one of the bright spots for the Browns since their return to the NFL in 1999. Not only has he been with the team since ’99, he has been one of the most consistent kickers in the NFL, as well as Browns’ history.
Dawson has quietly protested his contract status by skipping the OTAs, but was a welcome sight at the mandatory minicamp.
“I expected him here and thought he looked pretty good,” Eric Mangini said.
The Browns had one of the best kickoff coverage teams in the NFL and Dawson played a big part in it.
“It’s everybody,” he said. “You need good kicks. You need good hang time and everybody involved to be successful.”
Dawson was 10 of 11 down the stretch in cold weather games and that has to be comforting for the coaching staff.
“I really like Phil,” Mangini said. “it’s a tough environment to kick in. He’s done a good job in spite of the elements.”
Mangini recalled how Adam Viniateri was able to win the “Snow Bowl” against the Raiders that vaulted the Patriots to a Super Bowl Championship.
“Phil as been able to do the same things in cold weather,” he said. “It’s hard. He’s a perfectionist and I’m excited to have him here.”
Dawson is 229-for-275 in field goal attempts in his career for a career accuracy of 83.3 percent. He has scored 966 points in his Browns career.
Dawson was the only signed veteran to miss the OTAs, but he was in camp for the mandatory minicamp, which started Thursday morning. Dawson faced the risk of being fined if he wasn’t in camp.
Injury Update: DBs T.J. Ward and Eric Wright appeared to be held out of morning practice with leg injuries, but Mangini said they were minor.
“T.J. and Eric tightened up,” he said. “We thought T.J. was going to go this morning.
RFAs — Two in, Three Out: Of the five restricted free agents, RB Jerome Harrison and FB Lawrence Vickers were in attendance, while LB D’Qwell Jackson, Matt Roth and DB Abe Elam were missing. None of the three will be fined because they are not under contract. The restricted free agents have until June 15 to sign their one-year tender or risk having the offer reduced. Harrison and Vickers signed waivers and participated in OTAs, as well.
Mangini said he wasn’t expecting the trio to show up.
“I didn’t go into the weekend with any expectations,” Mangini said. “When you’re not here, it creates opportunities for other guys. Obviously, you’d like to have them all here, but for those guys it’s still voluntary, because they haven’t signed contracts.”
Hillis Missing: RB Peyton Hillis was absent from the first morning of minicamp. Hillis has been ill and missed part of the OTAs last week and earlier this week.
Mangini said Hillis has been battling a cold for a couple of weeks.
“He was sick the last time (OTAs)and should be back Friday, but I don’t anticipate him practicing,” Mangini said. “He had a cold and we didn’t want him to travel.”
RB Depth: Despite the absence of Hillis, Mangin said he likes the depth at running back. Jerome Harrison, James Davis, Chris Jennings and Thomas Brown return from last year’s team to go with newcomers Hillis and rookie Montario Hardesty.
“There is good depth there and am really happy with it,” he said. “Montario and Jerome are there with Peyton. Chris Jennings and James Davis did some things last year and there’s Thomas Brown. It’s a conscientious group and they pick things up.”
Mangini said he wasn’t surprised by Davis’ emergence in the preseason last year after being a sixth-round draft pick. His most memorable play was an 80-yard run for a touchdown against the Lions in the preseason before he was injured in practice and missed the season on injured reserve.
“He wasn’t a surprise,” Mangini said. “He had that run last year and caught some screens. He had a nice preseason. It’s hard to see what he would’ve done. If you’re not the first guy, you have to contribute on special teams and carve out a role.”
Mitchell Update: Mangini said he likes the progress thus far of rookie WR Carlton Mitchell.
“He’s a lot like the rest of the rookies,” he said. “With Carlton, he’s gotten better every day. He’s a hard worker with good speed and size and has gotten some work.”
Marriage Vows: Mangini used marriage to describe this season, as opposed to a year ago.
“A year ago, we were just finishing up our first date,” Mangini said. “Now, we’re married and we’re celebrating our one year anniversary.”
He feels the carryover from last season will help with the presence of veterans in the locker room, who know what to expect.
“Last year, we learned what it meant to play Browns football,” he said. “There are a lot of guys who are in the locker room now who are teaching the guys how to do it. We have to get to that point a lot quicker than we did last season.”
The Browns started 1-11 and then won their final four games. He says he sees many of the veterans making their presence felt.
“A lot of those guys are feeling more empowered to do that because they understand things better,” he said. “There’s definitely a solid group of guys in the locker room. It’s nice to see the guys embrace the new guys and not being worried about them trying to take their spot.”
OL Versatility: Mangini likes versatility at all positions, but particularly the Browns are moving guys around on the offensive line.
The Browns are trying to settle on the right side where Floyd Womack and John St. Clair played last season. OL Tony Pashos is playing guard and tackle, as is Womack. St. Clair, the starter at right tackle last year is in the mix and rookie Shawn Lauvao is working at right guard and center.
“We have a lot of combinations of guys,” Mangini said. “What we’re looking for is to teach them all of the different spots, so each guy has an appreciation for the other positions. It allows for versatility on the line.”
Roster Spots: Mangini said the Browns currently have to release 13 players before training camp. When the restricted free agents or rookies, they will have to release several to get down to the training camp limit.
Brown Adjusting: Mangini said that he is pleased with DB Sheldon Brown’s adjustment to the Browns’ defense.
“It’s hard when you play in one place your whole career and then you go to a new place,” he said. “In a lot of ways it’s like he’s a rookie again.”
Brown is being counted upon to solidify one of the starting cornerback positions after a solid career with the Eagles.
“He wants to know all of the information and he has been studying extra and you appreciate it,” Mangini said. “It could be easy for a veteran to say he’ll pick it up by training camp."