With free agency and the draft in the rear-view mirror, it is clear that the Browns expect Jordan Cameron to fill their needs at tight end. On review of the Browns 2nd week preseason game against the Detroit Lions, it appears that the Browns faith in Cameron is well placed. Cameron caught both of Brandon Weeden’s touchdown passes, and looked impressive in the mid-field and in the red zone. Considering the Browns difficulties in the red zone during 2012, Cameron will be asked to help finish drives and use his impressive vertical jump and speed. With Gary Barnidge sustaining a shoulder sprain during the Detroit Lion game, the Browns are thin at tight end. With all its eggs in the Jordan Cameron basket, it will be interesting to see how new Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner utilizes him in the regular season.
To many Browns fans, it seems like the ‘Jordan Cameron experiment’ has been ongoing forever. It is important to put these expectations in prospective and look back at the development of this years starting tight end. Jordan Cameron comes from a basketball background, before transferring to University of Southern California to play wide receiver. Not seeing much playtime in 2008 or 2009, Cameron made the transition to tight end in 2010, where he gives the first glimpse of his potential with a 126 yard, 1 td effort. In the 2011 pre-draft, Jordan Cameron’s stock skyrocketed after posting enormous numbers at the combine. Cameron placed in the top 3 of each exercise excluding bench press, where he was 5th. Putting that in the perspective of this years combine, Cameron would have placed 3rd in 40 yard dash, tied for 2nd in board, and 1st in both 3 cone and the vertical jump (tie for first). While no one has ever questioned the guys athleticism, it is easy to forget that Cameron had very little experience in football, let alone the tight end position before being drafted. In two seasons he has taken impressive steps to learn his craft, and while still considered a raw talent, he now has experience and both a Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator that are known for developing and utilizing tight ends.
In 2012, Cameron showed flashes of potential in a 226 yard effort, averaging 11.3 yards per completion. Cameron was mostly used in short crossing routes, gaining additional yardage after the reception to average that 11.3 yards. Pat Shurmur did not utilize Jordan Cameron in the red zone often, perhaps contributing to the Browns frustrations there. Cameron’s has an ability to create space with his speed and has good hands on the run. In games near the end of the season against the Steelers and Redskins, Weeden found Cameron in the red zone and in the open field. His contributions in these games preview his potential use this year as a short yardage option. After catching the ball, he has shown an ability to turn short passes into large gains. Cameron should also become a favorite target in the red zone with his size and vertical leap. Look for Norv Turner to use running back and tight end schemes in his offense this year, as he did with the Chargers using LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates.
It takes time to transition from a high school basketball player into an NFL tight end, but this pre-season, Jordan Cameron has looked as natural at his position as can be hoped for. With Brandon Weeden’s passes being sharp and accurate, Cameron has been able to catch the ball on the run without hesitating. Two issues that have been raised about Jordan Cameron in the past are his ability to block, and lack of aggressiveness. In the Detroit game, Jordan was much more aggressive with his movement. Instead of waiting for the football to come to him, he moved towards the ball to snatch it out of the air and make a move for additional yardage. This should translate to less turnovers and batted down passes as well as the coaching staff having more faith in Cameron’s ability to come down with the ball in traffic. Jordan Cameron’s other issue has been his blocking. This has been a main focus for him in training camp, running blocking drills with Kellen Davis and Gary Barnidge. In one drill on day 7 of camp, the tight ends were to come across low towards the defender dummy and power up into it, lifting it up off the ground. Davis and Barnidge ran the drill accurately from the start, but Cameron had some trouble as he would hit the target and then lift in two motions. After some discussion between himself and Head Coach Rob Chudzinski, he adjusted and ran the drill without mistake. Tight end blocking technique has been a large focus in training camp. That kind of encouragement and progress will pay dividends in his play this season.
With the lack of a significant tight end acquisition this off-season, and 2 seasons of development under his belt, the Browns are banking on this being the season that Jordan Cameron emerges as a premier tight end in the AFC North. While there are high expectations for Cameron to succeed, he has shown a steady improvement in his understanding of blocking and aggressive route running. When you review each year of his progress since college ball, you see a steady upwards progression of ability. In 2013, the Jordan Cameron experiment will pay off.