BEREA — Davone Bess and Travis Benjamin — the “undersized” receivers — went the six offseason practices open to the media without a dropped pass of note.
Josh Gordon and Greg Little — the big, fast starting wideouts — let a few balls hit the ground, but showed playmaking versatility from outside and the slot.
Offseason practices are set up to benefit the passing game — cornerbacks can’t jam receivers and quarterbacks aren’t to be touched — but the play of the receivers was a consistent bright spot.
“The sky’s the limit,” Bess said Thursday after minicamp concluded with a final practice. “I don’t want to get ahead of myself too early, but we’ve definitely got weapons.”
Bess (5-foot-10, 195 pounds) was acquired from Miami in a trade during the draft, and his veteran presence was obvious immediately. He’s almost always in the right spot, open often and reliable when targeted. He’s an ideal slot receiver.
“He brings consistency,” quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “He doesn’t make many mistakes. He knows how to prepare. He’s the ultimate pro and it’s starting to rub off on everybody in the locker room, not just the receivers.”
Speed has never been an issue for Benjamin (5-10, 175), but he improved his route-running and catching since his rookie season. Weeden said Benjamin may have led the team in receptions in the 16 offseason practices, and he finished with two long completions from Weeden on Thursday.
“His route-running is phenomenal, probably because he’s so fast,” Weeden said. “Guys have to honor him running by them. He’s been getting in and out of breaks so well.
“Whether it’s in-breaking routes or out-breaking routes, he’s really found a knack of getting separation and giving me a chance to complete some balls. He’s had a lot of catches this camp. He’s stuck out.”
Coordinator Norv Turner’s offense uses the receivers in different spots, but the conventional three-wideout lineup was Gordon, Little and Bess. The latter has been impressed with the former.
“They can run, jump, catch,” Bess said. “You can tell that they’re hungry. They’re young and hungry.”
“He’s a guy that has the ability to be a top-three receiver in this league,” Weeden said of Gordon, who’s entering his second season. “He has big-play capabilities. He can run by guys. He can do so many different things.”
The Browns will also have David Nelson (6-5, 215) back from knee surgery in training camp. They haven’t had this much depth at the position in years.
Johnson Bademosi ended his rookie season as a cornerback. When he arrived for the start of the offseason program April 1, he was told he was a safety — for the first time in his football career.
“It’s something I’ve got to do,” Bademosi said. “It’s an opportunity. With a change in the coaching staff, different ideas come in. If they want me to play safety, I’ll play safety. If they want me to play long snapper, I’ll play long snapper. Whatever I can do to get on the field.
“It was a surprise. I did go through the entire offseason thinking I was going to be a corner, preparing for that. But you’ve just got to play with the cards you’re dealt.”
Bademosi, who was undrafted out of Stanford, has been working as the No. 2 free safety throughout the offseason, behind starter Tashaun Gipson. Bademosi was beat deep twice Thursday, then responded by breaking up a pass on the goal line.
“I’m still learning. I’m not where I want to be yet, but every day is getting better and I’m just working on improving every day,” he said. “When you learn a new job, you’re not going to get it instantly, and that can be frustrating for me, just because I like to know the breadth of things as well as the depth of things. Just ups and downs with the learning process.”
Bademosi’s 6-0, 200-pound frame, athleticism and intelligence made him a candidate for the switch, although the same traits are valuable at corner.
“I’d heard conversations about (a switch), but I always knew about my ability at corner, no matter what anybody says,” he said.
Tight end Jordan Cameron (hamstring), running back Trent Richardson (lower leg), Nelson (knee), rookie safety Jamoris Slaughter (Achilles), receiver Jordan Norwood (hamstring) and rookie offensive lineman Chris Faulk (knee) didn’t practice.
Chudzinski expects all to be available on the first day of training camp in late-July, with the possible exception of Faulk. Slaughter, Nelson and Faulk have yet to practice with the Browns.
Cameron missed part of OTAs with a groin strain, then injured the hamstring Wednesday. He’s expected to be the starter when the season opens.
“I am not concerned at this point about that,” Chudzinski said of the injuries. “That position is a demanding position. As we get into the season we will make sure we are practicing and getting those guys the right amount of reps and things like that.
“He is new to this system, but he is also really new to being a tight end and trying to take a step up as a tight end in this league. It’s a critical thing. The best ability is availability.”
Cameron rode the stationary bike, then went over his routes with tight ends coach Jon Embree.
Heading into training camp, Chudzinski doesn’t know how the fullback position will play out.
“That’s a position, until you get in pads, it’s really difficult to evaluate,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have been around all different types of fullbacks. Whether it was the guy that’s a blocker and that’s all he does, to a guy who has been a runner and more of a tailback type of guy, to the other guys who are more of a receiver-type guy.”
Chudzinski said the direction this year’s fullback takes will be determined by the padded practices in camp. Owen Marecic is the most physical fullback but has been used sparingly with the starters. Tailback Chris Ogbonnaya has seen time as a fullback in some two-back sets with the first-team offense.
Backup tight end Brad Smelley made a pretty one-handed catch from Brian Hoyer on a deep seam route.
• Turner’s play calls in the red zone are full of imagination. He has many combinations of routes and the ball can get thrown anywhere.
• Backup cornerback Trevin Wade dropped an interception in the end zone on a Jason Campbell pass intended for Benjamin on an out route.
• Defensive lineman Desmond Bryant batted a Weeden pass at the line. After getting a ton of throws rejected last season, that’s been a rare occurrence this offseason for Weeden.
Rain forced the practice inside the field house, although the backups took some reps outside.
• Defensive back Prince Miller was waived. He played the last two games of 2012.
Undrafted rookie Vernon Kearney (6-2, 185) of Lane College was signed after a successful tryout during minicamp.
• Shawn Lauvao was the left guard with the starters and John Greco the right guard.
• Rookie seventh-rounder Garrett Gilkey was the second-team right guard through much of the offseason workouts.
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