September 18, 2014

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Breaking it down: Scott Petrak takes a look at training camp

BEREA — The end of training camp happens in stages.

The first curtain drew to a close Thursday with the last practices open to the public and the final two-a-day of the year. Camp won’t officially end until the players are out of the team hotel and living at home with no curfew.

That date is tentative.

“There are a couple of different schedules. Provided that everything goes according to plan, then we will go to schedule one,” coach Eric Mangini said. “If it doesn’t, then we will go with schedule two.”

Camp opened July 31, and in the three weeks that followed the Browns practiced 19 times on 13 days. They scrimmaged once and beat Green Bay 27-24 in the preseason opener.

Here’s a look back at the good and bad from the dog days of summer:

Most valuable campers: Tight ends Ben Watson and Evan Moore

Day after day, drill after drill, the tight ends were the targets for whatever quarterback was holding the ball. Watson will be the starter, but Moore will see plenty of time in two-tight end sets. He’s a former wideout who still looks comfortable split wide.

The tight ends should help carry the load for a suspect receiving corps.

Most pleasant surprise (on the field): Seneca Wallace

He began camp an unknown from Seattle, but the backup quarterback is fun to watch. He has great feet and a big arm, and that’s an exciting combination.

Sure, most of his throws come on the run, but he makes plays. He and starter Jake Delhomme have bolstered the position considerably.

Wallace and Joshua Cribbs formed an instant connection and should keep defenses guessing — and fans watching — when they share the backfield in the Wildcat formation.

Most pleasant surprise (off the field): Days off

Mangini softened the schedule in his second year, giving the players four extra days off from practice. He felt the players were responsible enough to handle them and it would benefit the physical recovery. Mangini’s not going soft, but seems more comfortable with his team and his surroundings.

“You do just as much work, but that day off obviously gets your legs fresh,” veteran defensive end Kenyon Coleman said.

Biggest disappointment: No Montario Hardesty

The second-round pick from Tennessee was supposed to be the top contender for the starting running back spot. Instead, he twisted his knee in rookie workouts before camp and never ventured onto the practice field. Not a good sign for a guy with a long injury history.

General manager Tom Heckert said there have been no setbacks and he could return Monday. Hardesty could still play a substantial role this season, but this wasn’t the start the team envisioned when it traded three draft picks to get him.

Worst injury: Dave Zastudil

The fact that the punter from Bay Village won’t be able to play this year isn’t a huge surprise. That doesn’t make his placement on injured reserve any less painful for him or the Browns.

His right knee wasn’t recovered from patellar tendon surgery in December and flared up the day camp opened. He’s in the final year of his contract, so this could be the end of his Browns career.

Reggie Hodges was an adequate replacement last season, but he doesn’t have the leg or consistency of Zastudil.

Biggest reason to worry: Delhomme’s two-minute drills

Delhomme had a great debut against the Packers and a solid camp, but he’s been a disaster in the practice-ending two-minute drills. Interceptions have grossly outnumbered touchdowns, as he takes unnecessary chances with too much time left.

Most valuable rookie: T.J. Ward

The second-round safety from Oregon got better by the practice. Even without his best skill — tackling isn’t allowed in camp — he flashed often. He’s always around the ball and took the coaches’ teaching to heart. He will start in Week 1.

Most interesting battle: Right side of offensive line

Injuries to Tony Pashos, John St. Clair and Floyd Womack and the excused absence of rookie Shawn Lauvao have turned the guard and tackle competitions into a jumbled mess. The four candidates to start at the two spots haven’t had enough time on the field to determine the best combination. They haven’t had enough time together to develop cohesion.

Settling this situation is a must in the final two preseason games.

Best sight: Full stands

The success of camp carried over to the attendance, as 38,929 fans visited team headquarters.

“I just thought the attendance throughout training camp was fantastic, the support was fantastic,” Mangini said. “Multiple times we were practicing and someone would start the ‘Here we go Brownies’ chant. The guys notice that. They feed off that and that energy at practice helps.”

Most ringing endorsement: Mangini likes this team better than last year’s

That may not be saying much, as his first Browns squad started 1-11. But Mangini’s positive vibe toward the 2010 group is obvious.

“I feel really good about this group of guys,” he said. “I do because they understand what we are trying to get done and they’re working towards that and when you have that, it’s more positive energy across the board, as opposed to some that are working towards it, some that aren’t sure whether they want to work towards it and some that are working against it. It’s 50-50 whether you are going to get done what you want to get done each day.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.