July 23, 2016

Mostly sunny

(Updated) Browns open rookie minicamp; DT Phil Taylor to have surgery

BEREA – The optimism surrounding the start of Browns rookie minicamp was dulled tremendously by coach Phil Shurmur’s announcement this morning that defensive tackle Phil Taylor will have surgery next week to repair a torn left pectoral muscle.

Shurmur said Taylor will be out for months but said it was premature to rule him out for the season. Taylor was the No. 21 pick in the draft last year and started 16 games with 59 tackles and four sacks.

Taylor was injured Thursday lifting weights at the team facility during the offseason workout program.

“Thanks for all the support,” he tweeted today. “Just a bump in the road. Got work hard and come back #Strong.”

Taylor will likely miss the entire 2012 season, but there’s an outside chance he could return after the midpoint of the season. Shurmur said a decision on his roster status won’t be made until training camp in July and August.

The Browns have a recent history with pectoral injuries. Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson missed most of 2009 and all of 2010 with a pair of torn pecs. He returned in 2011, started every game and was second in the NFL with 158 tackles.

Defensive end Emmanuel Stephens, who had just cracked the starting lineup, tore a pectoral last season and missed the final five games. He’s expected to be back this season.

The early candidates to replace Taylor in the starting lineup – next to underrated tackle Ahtyba Rubin – are rookies John Hughes (6-foot-5, 320 pounds) and Billy Winn (6-4, 295). Hughes was a third-round pick out of Cincinnati, and Winn a sixth-rounder out of Boise State.

The Browns held their first minicamp practice in the morning and are scheduled for another this afternoon. Here are some observations:

** Quarterback Brandon Weeden, the No. 22 pick, looks good throwing the ball. He has a classic delivery that looks effortless, but the ball whistles out of his hand. He also showed good touch on a number of short passes.

His best throw was a 20-yard out to undrafted receiver Jermaine Saffold. Weeden’s spiral on another throw was so tight, the spin on the ball was undetectable – like a fastball.

“I’ve always been kind of a natural thrower,” the former minor league pitcher said. “It’s in my blood.”

** In the afternoon practice, Weeden dropped two snaps from under center. He played almost exclusively out of the shotgun as a senior at Oklahoma State but said he prefers taking the snap from center.

Footwork is another transition, as the shotgun doesn’t require drops or play-action fakes. Shurmur worked with Weeden on some specific movements, especially when he faked a handoff, then rolled in the other direction.

** The players were in shorts and helmets, which doesn’t allow a running back to show his entire skill set, but Trent Richardson, the No. 3 pick, looked quick and powerful in drills. He also caught several balls out of the backfield.

“We taught a lot of plays and he executed them well,” Shurmur said. “He executed his ballhandling well. We threw him the ball and he caught it. All pretty good stuff.”

Being a Brown started to sink in for Richardson when he put on the brown No. 33 jersey.

“It felt good and it’s starting to hit me now that I’ve made it to the NFL,” he said. “To put on another number and another jersey, because I’ve been wearing crimson for the last three years and that’s what I’m used to, so now I’ve made it. Now I have to take advantage of the NFL experience.”

Richardson said his knee is fine following minor surgery after Alabama’s national championship win. He had a sleeve on the left knee, and the coaches appeared to limit his number of repetitions.

“I can go 100 percent. I haven’t slowed down yet,” he said.

** Running backs coach Gary Brown had some fun at his own expense. He was on the wrong end of a Richardson block at the Alabama pro day and found himself on his back – and all over YouTube.

“Please don’t knock me down,” Brown told Richardson during a drill this afternoon.

“That was you?” said seventh-round fullback Brad Smelley, who went to Alabama. “Everybody saw that.”

** Fourth-round receiver Travis Benjamin dropped two passes in the morning practice, but Shurmur stopped the questioner in his tracks.

“Let’s not go there yet,” he said. “He has good hands and will show up.”

Benjamin is listed at 5-10 and 175 pounds and has elite speed. His lower legs aren’t much thicker than a baseball bat.

He made some nice catches in the afternoon.

** Smelley caught several passes. He lined up mostly at fullback, but took some repetitions at tight end.

** Shurmur said the Browns haven’t discussed signing veteran free-agent receiver Plaxico Burress, who told a radio station this week the Browns are one of the teams he’s interested in. The Browns may look to add a veteran before training camp.

“We haven’t talked about Plax right now,” Shurmur said.

** Ex-Ohio State linebacker Andrew Sweat wasn’t at either practice after signing a free-agent deal. Shurmur said he decided not to play professional football.

He was the only one of 37 players on the roster not to participate.