What I saw at camp
The Browns’ worrisome QB situation tops John Kryk’s observations from his NFL pre-season workouts tour
After blowing through six NFL training camps in six days, and driving some 2,500 km in between, one observation lingers over all others.
The Cleveland Browns will be a punching bag again in 2017 unless one of their four rostered quarterbacks improves appreciably by month’s end.
Granted, it was only one practice, not even a week into camp. But last Saturday on the grass practice fields behind team headquarters in Berea, Ohio, the foursome — Cody Kessler, Brock Osweiler, DeShone Kizer and Kevin Hogan — looked mighty mediocre.
I’ve seen 15 of the league’s 32 clubs practise at training camp over the past six years of touring — 37 stops in all — and I don’t remember a worse collective performance by any team’s quarterbacks than Cleveland’s last Saturday.
Maybe it was just an aberration. Maybe they were rattled by the fact is was the first practice of the year in pads, which featured actual to-theground tackling for a time — something you almost never see anymore at NFL practices. And maybe the fact that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ charges were laying some serious wood disrupted QB/receiver timing; defensive back Briean BoddyCalhoun actually knocked receiver Rannell Hall’s helmet right off, in one such full-speed collision early in practice.
But quarterbacks, as always, were spared from such contact. And far too many of Kessler’s, Osweiler’s, Kizer’s and Hogan’s passes were dreadful.
I didn’t keep count but I doubt the foursome, combined, completed even half their throws in 11-on-11 periods. And most routes were basic in concept, and short in length: Screens to running backs, tight-end crossers at linebacker depth, safety-valve dump-offs to the flats, and quick wideout comebackers.
Some completions were as disconcerting as the faroff-the-mark incompletions. Kessler and Osweiler, in particular, threw noticeably late more than once on simple short comebackers; receivers were waiting for the ball to arrive well after making their cuts. In the regular season, such late throws are usually broken up or intercepted.
Considering Kessler and Hogan were middle-round draft picks last year (the Kansas City Chiefs gave up on Hogan after four months) and Kizer is a second-round draft pick fresh out of Notre Dame, by rights Osweiler should be outperforming the lot of ’em. He isn’t. Last Saturday, the former Bronco/ Texan appeared as unsure and erratic as the others.
If there was one ray of hope burning a hole through that deck of grey misery, it was the potential of Kizer. As so many draft experts promised, Kizer’s physical talents indeed are impressive. Strong arm, fast release. He’s listed at 6-foot-4 but looks, and plays, taller. That no doubt contributes to his apparent comfort in the pocket, a surprise after he played in Brian Kelly’s pure shotgun spread attack with the Fighting Irish. A couple times the 21-year-old ripped slant throws square into the hands of his receivers — to my eyes, the most impressive completions on the day.
After practice, Kessler and Kizer continued throwing together, as Osweiler signed autographs. Hogan? Didn’t see him afterward, but he appears destined to be cut; doesn’t have a pro arm.
Bottom line with this QB foursome? Unless Osweiler or Kessler pull away this month, or are substantially ahead of the rookie in all the pre-snap requirements (e.g., consistently commanding the huddle, identifying defences, adjusting his protections and audibling into better plays, all well before the play clock expires), Browns head coach Hue Jackson might as well start Kizer from the get-go.
Other observations, quotes and notes from my training-camps tour, on which I observed single-day practices of the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, the Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, in that order, ending Tuesday:
Yup, Mark Sanchez looked pretty good at Monday’s Bears practice at Olivet Nazarene University, a Protestant school an hour’s drive