BEREA — One of Browns coach Pat Shurmur’s football axioms is, “The pads tend to separate the linebackers.”
Consider rookie James-Michael Johnson separated from the pack.
Johnson — a fourth-round draft pick from Nevada — continued his strong start to training camp on Monday morning, making two interceptions and a goal-line stop at practice.
“It was a pretty big deal to me, making my first two interceptions of camp,” the 6-foot-1, 240-pounder said.
“Quarterbacks get paid big money to throw touchdowns, just like we get paid big money to stop them. If they throw it, I can catch it.”
Johnson, who has spent time at strong-side and weak-side linebacker during the first three public workouts, excelled in the situational sets that Shurmur staged.
Johnson stuffed running back Brandon Jackson on a carry to the left in a goal-line sequence, then picked off third-string quarterback Seneca Wallace to end a two-minute drill.
Earlier in the workout, Johnson intercepted fourth-stringer Thaddeus Lewis.
“James-Michael has had a couple of good days, he really has,” Shurmur said. “He had a couple of interceptions and looked good on the goal line.”
Johnson’s increased impact has coincided with the team practicing in full pads for the last two days. The four-year starter with the Wolfpack said he relishes the opportunity to play “real football,” so much so that he wishes every workout was conducted in game-day apparel.
“I would much rather play football with pads on,” said Johnson, who answers to both JMJ and James-Michael. “To me, it’s not football unless you’re hitting guys and trying to tackle people while you’re out there. When you practice that way, it makes you a better player.”
Since Cleveland’s next six workouts will also be in full pads, Johnson plans on enjoying himself even more.
First, though, the Browns will take today off, as required by the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement. Many football players have gotten themselves in trouble on off-days in recent years, but Johnson said no one has to worry about his name being added to the list.
“(Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron) always talks to us about being a pro — and pros don’t go out and do something stupid at night,” the college psychology major said. “I spend any downtime I have looking at more film and studying the playbook. Whenever I’m not sleeping, I’m working on becoming better.
“Tomorrow, I’m going to sleep in until 8 or 9 a.m., then get back to work.”
Brandon Weeden ran the first-team offense against the Browns’ starting defense in the two-minute drill, splitting two drives.
Weeden failed to gain a first down in the initial battle, but won the second with a 34-yard field goal by Phil Dawson. The 28-year-old rookie converted two fourth-down plays — one thanks to a generous spot by the coaching staff — before setting up Dawson’s kick with a deep out pass to Josh Gordon.
Mohamed Massaquoi and Greg Little were the other wide receivers on the top offensive unit.
Colt McCoy and running back Montario Hardesty led the second-team offense to a victory over its defensive counterparts. Dawson’s 36-yard field goal provided the points.
McCoy’s big gains were completions to tight end Jordan Cameron and wide receiver Josh Cooper, while Hardesty’s two carries preceded Dawson’s conversion.
“I really enjoy practicing the two-minute because I think it’s good for our football team,” Shurmur said. “Inside of that drill, I think what’s good is there is a lot of organization, and the mechanics of it are important. There also is a lot of good conditioning because it can be tiring for those receivers running route after route.”
There were two passing touchdowns in goal-line sets as Weeden connected with tight end Benjamin Watson, while McCoy hooked up with Cameron. Top draftee Trent Richardson and Jackson were both stopped running up the middle.
More importantly, no one was injured during the hard-hitting plays.
“You always keep your fingers crossed because all the legs are piled up,” Shurmur said. “For the most part, we were in good shape.”
Practicing in full pads for the second day in a row caused tempers to flare on the practice fields.
Rookie fullback Brad Smelley and linebacker Craig Robertson exchanged blows, which was somewhat comical as both wear No. 47.
Defensive lineman Emmanuel Stephens later engaged in a shoving match with Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, which grew even more heated when guard Jason Pinkston interjected himself. Stephens threw a punch at Pinkston before they were separated.
Wide receiver Carlton Mitchell (leg) missed his third straight practice, which is not helping his odds of making the team for the third year in a row.
Defensive tackle Phil Taylor (left pectoral surgery), defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (pelvic muscle surgery), and fullback Eddie Williams (undisclosed) remain on the active/physically unable to perform list. Tight end Evan Moore (undisclosed) is on the active/non-football injury list.
Around the corner
Shurmur said Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown would be his starting cornerbacks if the regular season began today.
However, the second-year also hedged on Brown’s spot, noting that there is more than a month until the Browns host Philadelphia in Week 1.
“I really like some of the development that I’ve seen,” Shurmur said. “Buster (Skrine) is a gritty, gritty guy. Dimitri Patterson challenges, my goodness, and you could see those guys playing outside for sure. And then there’s Trevin Wade, who I think has got a feel for playing the game at corner.”
Hardesty, who played college football at Tennessee, is quite familiar with prospective Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III.
Pilot Flying J Travel Centers president Haslam is a major booster of the Volunteers, while Hardesty is their eighth-leading rusher of all-time with 2,391 yards.
“Pilot gas stations, he does a lot at the University of Tennessee, so I just know him through that,” Hardesty said. “I guess it’ll be good. I know he likes football. I know he was at all the football games. So I think it’ll be good.”
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.