Cleveland Browns: 5 headlines from the start of camp

Jul 31, 2016; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Corey Coleman heads to the locker room following practice at the Cleveland Browns Training Facility in Berea, OH. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 31, 2016; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Corey Coleman heads to the locker room following practice at the Cleveland Browns Training Facility in Berea, OH. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports /

This season’s Cleveland Browns training camp has begun unlike any other, as the new regime has made its own unique imprint.

Berea has been buzzing since the beginning of training camp, as optimism fills the air in and around the Cleveland Browns’ facility. Five days of practices have been completed, and Wednesday’s day off is a time to reflect on what has transpired in the opening days of camp.

Five headlines in particular have dominated camp thus far, and are elements of this coming season to watch for. Ranked from fifth to first, the top five observations from camp so far are as follows:

5. Connor Hamlett is for real

The most pleasant surprise early on in training camp is the impressive play of tight end Connor Hamlett. The Oregon State product is clearly making an impression to the coaches amidst the large group of tight ends competing for the backup role behind Gary Barnidge.

The 6-foot-7, 259-pound 24-year-old has impressed both with his reliable hands and size advantage over just about every competitor. His blocking skills appear superior thus far as well, as his size and hands are playing into the advantages he has in just about every aspect.

In Hue Jackson‘s offense, the second tight end is critical. Therefore, Hamlett, along with Seth DeValve, E.J. Bibbs, J.P. Holtz, and Randall Telfer will all be taken into consideration. More than one will make the team, but whoever the coaches decide to fill the backup tight end role with will see much more action and be critical to the Browns’ success in 2016. So far, against all odds, Connor Hamlett appears to be the front runner.

4. There is still some unrest in the secondary

Overall, the Browns defense has been very good thus far in camp. Second-year nose tackle Danny Shelton appears to be making significant strides from his rookie season, and the rest of the young defensive line is stepping up to replace Desmond Bryant. The defense as a whole has been relentlessly physical as coach Jackson expects, and has been able to force quite a few turnovers as well.

The only group that may be concerning the coaching staff is the secondary. While it is good news that Joe Haden will play on opening day, and veteran Tramon Williams has solidified a starting role opposite of him, the youth of the secondary has been evident. 2014 first-round draft pick Justin Gilbert continues his struggles, and there really isn’t any other depth behind Haden and Williams.

The safety position is also in doubt, as the coaches have even experimented with Pierre Desir. Ibraheim Cambell has played well, but the secondary is still very thin. Opposing pass-heavy offenses in 2016 may be a struggle if the beginning of camp is any indication, especially if there are any injuries in the secondary.

3. There really isn’t any quarterback competition

At the beginning of camp, coach Jackson had made it clear that he would name the starting quarterback before next Friday’s preseason opener in Green Bay. As of now, while no decision has officially been announced, the competition that many Browns fans expected to see is non-existent.

Though Josh McCown has remained a critical veteran presence during training camp, and rookie Cody Kessler has been progressing well, Robert Griffin III is the starting quarterback. Griffin, who signed  with the Browns in March, is taking almost all of the first-team offense’s reps at quarterback, and is the center of attention among the group of quarterbacks.

There is no reason to belittle any of the other quarterbacks, but Griffin deserves a lot of credit for his impressive improvements in training camp. He is clearly the starter, and the Browns are placing their hopes in the very real possibility he returns to his previous form.

2. Josh Gordon will not waste his final opportunity

Since wide receiver Josh Gordon‘s reinstatement, the former Baylor Bear has been acting professionally in Browns camp, clearly on a mission to make his 2016 productive. Suspended for the first four regular season games, Gordon will return against the New England Patriots in Week 5.

The Browns hope to find a role for Gordon which will maximize the benefit the team gets from his return, and so far, they are on track to do so. Reunited with a quarterback like Griffin, Gordon and the other receivers will benefit from the accurate deep balls. A Browns offense known for stagnation in recent years may become a very explosive offense in 2016.

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Still however, the Browns must find a replacement for Gordon for the first four weeks of 2016. The group in camp right now is especially known for their speed, and their high competitive spirits.

Rookies Ricardo Louis, Jordan Payton, Rashard Higgins, and especially Corey Coleman have all impressed, as well as Andrew Hawkins, who will probably start at slot receiver. The group as a whole has made very effective strides through the first five practices, and it is undoubtedly a group to pay attention to moving forward.

1. Coach Jackson is in command

Above all else, what is most evident in camp so far is head coach Hue Jackson’s imprint on all aspects of practice. Jackson emphasizes the need for the players to be physical with one another, yet no major injuries have resulted. The first-year head coach has also added new elements to practice, such as the sirens that go off, indicating that practice is about to be intensified.

For the veteran players, playing for a head coach with Jackson’s style is uncharted waters. Yet somehow, Jackson has gotten all of his players to buy into his labor intensive system, which is one that installs all of the offensive and defensive schemes within the first six practices.

Jackson’s energy is refreshing, and the control he has over this training camp is evident. He is a coach that players respect because he demands respect, and he works his players hard while smiling and adding a more personal element to camp in addition.

Next: Top 5 opposing running backs in 2016

Whether Jackson can lead the Browns to the postseason in the near future is yet to be seen, but what could not be any more clear is his professional approach to training camp, and the high degree of success he has brought early on.