Tackles Malik Jackson (97) and Andrew Billings were among the new faces on defense attending Browns OTA practice on Wednesday. (Cleveland Browns)
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
Takeaways from Browns OTA practice and interviews …
With attendance at his fifth of 10 OTA practices sporadic, at best, Kevin Stefanski was unflappable in hiding his frustration and avoiding any unnecessary tiff with veteran players boycotting the voluntary sessions in deference to center JC Tretter, the NFLPA president.
The Browns coach confirmed only two things. One, the practices are voluntary and he holds nothing against the players absent. And, two, the mandatory minicamp will be held as scheduled June 15-17.
Wednesday’s session, the first open to media, was attended by 55 players -- 30 on defense, 22 on offense, and three specialists.
Like Tuesday’s first session of the week, the notables in attendance were from the defensive side, such as Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward. The biggest names among defensive players missing were Jadeveon Clowney, Takk McKinley, John Johnson III, Troy Hill and Sione Takitaki.
The most notable veteran players from the offensive side participating were No. 4 tight end Stephen Carlson and No. 3 running back D’Ernest Johnson.
The only quarterback on hand was No. 3 Kyle Lauletta. When the team held an 11-on-11 period, rookie specialist Demetric Felton lined up as a receiver. The natural receivers available were JoJo Natson, Alex Hollins and Ja’Marcus Bradley. Rookie Anthony Schwartz was present but was held out with a nylon wrap on his left leg.
It appeared that one of the modifications Stefanski made to attract veterans to camp was to limit defensive veterans to this week and offensive veterans to next week. But he would not confirm that. Media will have to wait see for themselves if offensive regulars show up at next Wednesday’s open-media session.
“I will stay in the moment here,” Stefanski said when pressed about the offensive players. “Truth be told – I have said this before and the players have heard me say it – this is a voluntary program. The guys who choose to show up will get coached here, and that is under their own volition. I know that is certainly a story that is being written about, but for us, we deal with it very matter-of-factly. It is a voluntary program. The guys who are here will get coached up, and the guys who are not here, we will see them for mandatory minicamp.”
The two-time AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs are among several teams that have had higher participation in OTAs than the Browns. By nature, coaches seek every possible competitive advantage. So I asked Stefanski if he was concerned his team might fall behind Super Bowl contenders such as the Chiefs.
“I would tell you that I am concerned about the Cleveland Browns every day – I worry about us,” he answered. “I know what we had to accomplish today. I know the work that had to be put in today. That is what I am focused on. That is really what concerns me is the Cleveland Browns.”
I asked Garrett the same question.
“Not at all,” he said. “I am glad they have attendance, but just because they are getting work in at their facility does not mean that we are not working just because we are away. Our defense is getting the work in and working on their craft, just working from home. We have that freedom and that liberty.
“When we get to Game 1, we will see who has been gelling better and who has the upper hand.”
Hanging it up
A 10-second video posted by Garrett on May 26 showed him posterizing a dunk over somebody in a pickup basketball game in a gym. The video went viral with over 1.4 million views.
Stefanski, whose father Ed is a long-time NBA club executive, was asked what he thought of Garrett’s game on the court.
“He retired, so congratulations on a great career for Myles. Really proud of him but he is done,” Stefanski said.
Did the coach talk to Garrett about not playing anymore?
“He is retired,” Stefanski repeated.
“I feel like it is more of a [Michael] Jordan retirement,” Garrett said. “I went to baseball. I went to basketball for a second, and now I have to go back to what I am good at and what I usually do – playing football, rushing the passer and stopping the run.
“Next season, you never know,” he said with a laugh. “I might go back to basketball and I might go play baseball and see if I can get on a team. There is more on the horizon, but right now, I have to get back to my main focus.”
The fact is, Garrett’s contract has specific language prohibiting any risky non-football activity. An injury suffered in such an activity would be considered non-football injury and could subject a player to giving back bonus money if it imperiled his playing time. Remember Kellen Winslow II suffering a career-altering knee injury practicing wheelies on a super-charged motorcycle in the 2005 offseason?
One of the most physical imposing players on hand was Malik McDowell, the controversial signing by GM Andrew Berry who hasn’t played in the NFL because of legal problems since being drafted, and then released, by the Seahawks in 2017. McDowell is listed as 6-6 and 295 pounds. Stefanski said McDowell could play end or tackle, but they’re not that far along yet to determine his best position. McDowell has been held out of practice this week. Garrett’s early first impression is favorable. “He seems bright,” Garrett said. “He seems very attentive to what we are doing. He likes to ask questions to Coach to make sure that when he gets back [on the field] he will be ready to play, so I like that about him already. I am hopeful for the guy. I am hopeful for what he can do for us.” …
There is mystery as to how many linebackers coordinator Joe Woods will use in his base defense – two or three. Anthony Walker, the free agent pickup from the Colts, figures to be one of them. He sounded like a coach when he commented, “The coaches are going to play the best guys. At the end of the day, that is the way of football. When you have competitive depth on your defense in every room – linebackers, DBs, D-line – guys basically fighting, clawing whatever for a position, that is what you want. Again, it is all out of the respect of the game and to want to be a part of a great defense. Great defenses have guys who compete and earn it. That is what we are trying to do here.” …
Two defensive players of note coming back from injuries were present. Cornerback Greedy Williams participated in everything. Safety Grant Delpit was held out and stayed near his position group …
The specialists on hand were kickers Cody Parkey and Chase McLaughlin and punter Jamie Gillan …
It will be interesting to see if any starting offensive linemen show up for any OTA practices. Tretter, of course, is the NFLPA boycott leader and it would be good for cohesion if all of Tretter’s line mates followed his lead. In the meantime, a developmental lineman to watch is Greg Senat. He was a power forward for Wagner College for four years and then started 22 games as a right tackle on the football team. Senat has three years NFL experience now with the Ravens, Chiefs, Cowboys and Browns practice squad. He lined up at left tackle and at 6-6 and 305 pounds displayed some real agility in Bill Callahan’s wide zone scheme.