BEREA — Safety Jim Leonhard played for Mike Pettine in Baltimore, New York and Buffalo.
He’s never seen him quite like this.
“I’m excited to see him as a head coach,” Leonhard said Thursday. “I think he’s got the right mentality for it. The little bit that I’ve seen, he’s doing the right things.
“Personality-wise he’s got what it takes to be a great coach. He’s learned from some really good coaches. It all starts with his dad. I have to give his dad a lot of credit. He’s the right guy for the job and I’m glad I’m here with him.”
Leonhard, 31, signed Wednesday and practiced in a limited role Thursday wearing No. 30. He was in touch with the Browns throughout the offseason before talks heated up this week.
“There’s a lot to like,” Pettine said. “He’s smart. He’s tough. He knows the defense. It took (secondary coach) Jeff Hafley about 10 minutes to install all the D, get him caught up to speed.
“You look at him and think he should be doing your taxes and not playing safety for you, but he’s an exceptional athlete and he’s found a way to survive for a long time in this league. He makes the other players around him better, and he’ll be great in the meeting room. That will carry onto the field as well. He also had his career high in interceptions (four) last year, so he can still play at a high level.”
Leonhard (5-foot-8, 188 pounds) will be a core special teamer and compete to be the third safety behind starters Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson, likely displacing Jordan Poyer. Pettine said he likes to use three-safety packages against some two-tight end, two-receiver sets.
The accountant lookalike has made it to his 10th season, playing in 126 games with 68 starts. He plans to retire after this year.
“It’s something I decided a couple of years ago,” Leonhard said. “I talked it over with my family. You know what I’m going to put into this year if it’s the last one. I’m really excited to have this opportunity here.”
Reunited with his old coach.
“It’s great,” Leonhard said. “I have a good relationship with him, I consider him a friend. It’s awesome to see his career and the path it’s taken.”
Receiver Josh Gordon wasn’t at practice after leaving for his appeal hearing in New York, and it’s uncertain if he’ll return to the field for the Browns.
Despite a report to the contrary, his appeal of an indefinite suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy will be held today. Commissioner Roger Goodell won’t be at the hearing, as Harold Henderson will reportedly preside. Goodell has no meeting scheduled with Gordon.
A league source said it’s unknown when the league will have a ruling.
If Gordon loses the appeal, he would be suspended indefinitely and wouldn’t be eligible to apply for reinstatement for a year. According to NFL rules, he’d be forbidden from being around the team.
He’s hoping for a reversal or a reduction in the sentence.
Gordon’s lawyers will dispute the validity of the positive marijuana test and attribute it to second-hand smoke. There was a discrepancy in the “A” and “B” samples from the test in question and only one was above the league’s limit, according to multiple reports.
Guard John Greco and defensive lineman Billy Winn practiced for the first time after being activated from the non-football injury list. Winn had been sidelined with a hamstring injury, and Greco declined to disclose his ailment.
Greco is competing with rookie Joel Bitonio and Garrett Gilkey for the two starting guard spots. Bitonio seems to be a lock on the left side, while Gilkey has been working with the starters on the right side in Greco’s absence.
“I don’t think I’ll be behind,” Greco said. “I missed a few padded days, but I was right there mentally watching the tape in there from behind. When I get back to live contact with the pads it will maybe take a day to get used to the speed again.”
Winn joins a deep rotation across the defensive line. He plans on being ready for the Family Day scrimmage Saturday at the University of Akron’s InfoCision Stadium.
“We are used to having things out here or going to the stadium,” he said. “It will be nice to bring a little bit of excitement and a little bit of fun over to Akron.”
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The Browns tackled to the ground during short-yardage and goal-line drills. They will tackle again during Family Day, then won’t do it much more, Pettine said.
The offense got the better of the defense during the short yardage, succeeding with rushes and short passes. On one play rookie running back Isaiah Crowell turned the corner for a first down, then stiff-armed defensive back Darwin Cook to the ground.
Rookie inside linebacker Chris Kirksey had the biggest hit on defense, stuffing running back Chris Ogbonnaya up the middle.
The practice focused on a series of situations, including the offense backed up inside the 5-yard line and the offense needing a first down to seal a win.
- Inside linebacker Darius Eubanks joined defensive lineman Phil Taylor and receiver Chandler Jones on the stationary bikes. They have undisclosed injuries.
- Linebacker Tank Carder watched practice after participating Tuesday for the first time.
- Offensive lineman Randall Harris wasn’t on the field after leaving Tuesday with an injury.
- Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby was back after resting Tuesday.
- The Family Day scrimmage will start with the first-team offense vs. the first-team defense, then go ones vs. twos. Each drive will end with an extra point, a field-goal try or a punt. There will be no kickoffs.
- Pettine said they will simulate a halftime, then do red zone work.
- Kirksey and cornerback Isaiah Trufant worked in the nickel defense.
- Lorain basketball coach John Rositano watched practice.