BEREA — The future of the NFL arrived Wednesday at Browns headquarters.
Near the end of practice, the offense went no-huddle. Brian Hoyer led a 65-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 19-yard catch-and-run from running back Ben Tate after linebacker Barkevious Mingo slipped in coverage. Johnny Manziel went three-and-out in his two chances in the no-huddle.
“It’s something that we want to incorporate offensively at some point,” coach Mike Pettine said. “It’s always good to be able to change your tempo.
“It’s really the future of the league, so I think defensively we can’t see enough of that. We’ll work on that more repetitions in future practices, especially leading up to the opener. I know Pittsburgh ran some up-tempo last year. I think they liked it and they’re going to increase it some more. I think it’s a league-wide trend, so it’s something we certainly need to be prepared for.”
Teams like the Patriots, Broncos, Packers and Steelers have had success going without a huddle and speeding up the pace of play, but the Browns had been reluctant to try in recent years. Past coaches have wanted to master the basics of the system first.
New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan has a complicated system that includes play calls of nearly 20 words, but Pettine didn’t want to wait to install the no-huddle.
“They get shortened down to, I think, it’s a number and a word,” Pettine said. “They can get the guys lined up and then they have code words. You can’t do your whole offense that way, but I think in a given game plan you can pick a certain number of plays and go ahead and code-word them or number them and be able to run the no-huddle efficiently.”
Pettine said Manziel should be able to handle it as a rookie.
“I think it’s to any quarterback’s advantage to be able to get up on the ball quick and force a defense to not be able to substitute and maybe be a little bit more vanilla with their calls or more worried about getting lined up than getting in advance detail,” he said. “You see some teams that play well when they have that time to reset in between, and then I think you just need that in your arsenal to kind of unnerve a team, the ability to go no-huddle.”
Rookie defensive lineman Calvin Barnett went down with an injury during Hoyer’s drive and the offense questioned its validity.
“No comment,” Pettine said. “I know that’s a point of emphasis with the league. It’s something that I know defenses have done to try to slow it down, but I think that was a legitimate injury. I think he cramped up.”
Receiver Travis Benjamin says he’s faster than ever despite having surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament Nov. 15.
“I actually feel much faster than I actually was before,” he said after his best day of camp. “Mostly I focused on my lower body and getting it stronger knowing that I had an ACL surgery.”
Benjamin is slated to return punts and kickoffs, but Pettine said he must also have a role in the offense. His speed makes him an obvious deep threat.
“In Kyle’s offense over the years he’s had that guy than can kind of take the roof off,” Pettine said. “I think that’s important.
“It’s hard to have a roster spot just for a guy and all he does is return. You can have him be your third or your fourth (receiver). I think that’s nothing but a positive thing.”
Benjamin didn’t play in the preseason opener as a precaution with the knee, and he wasn’t sure if he’ll return kicks at all before Week 1 in Pittsburgh. He and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor will decide if he needs a game rep or two.
Benjamin’s nickname is “Rabbit” because he used to catch rabbits as a kid in Florida. The story got out and people call him that in the grocery store.
“The biggest trick is, as a group, knowing that you surround the bushes and when the rabbits hear you coming they just rush out and go any way,” Benjamin said. “Knowing you got a circle, you’re able to catch it. Sometimes you dive. Sometimes you have a stick or something in your hand so when you see it you just have to jump on its (butt).”
Yes, they’d eat the rabbits.
“Kind of tender, almost like pork chops,” he said.
Pettine might be bringing a towel — or a change of clothes — to practice Friday.
Jets coach Rex Ryan extended the “Ice Bucket Challenge” to his former defensive coordinator after practice Wednesday in New York. To raise money for ALS, people have cold water dumped on their heads, make a donation and then challenge others to do the same.
“Let them take a play out of our playbook,” Ryan told reporters.
He was taking a shot at Pettine, his longtime friend who created a stir in June when he told themmqb.com that Ryan was loose handing out his playbook and the Patriots had acquired a copy.
“Yeah, of course I was tweaking Pettine a little bit,” Ryan said. “But all in good spirits. … I haven’t had a chance to punch him in the face, so that’ll be the next time.”
Ryan was joking and said everything’s good between him and Pettine, who left Ryan for Buffalo last season in a lateral move.
“Please. Of course,” Ryan said. “Realistically, it’s going to take a lot more than something like that to drive a wedge between us. We’re lifelong friends and things like that.”
Second-year strong safety Josh Aubrey has flown under the radar throughout training camp, but he’s played well, is a special teams standout and worked with the first-team defense toward the end of practice.
“He’s a good teammate, he’s a good football player,” Pettine said. “He’s not going to be a flashy guy, but he’s solid. He does his job and he’s a guy that we’re very pleased with his development.
“He’s really showed up when we’ve done live work. I thought that he had a good scrimmage, he made a couple of nice plays in the game, forced a fumble, had another tackle. But he’s a guy that’s fighting for a spot. But he’s doing everything he can.”
Aubrey made the team as an undrafted rookie last year and played six games on special teams. He was placed on injured reserve Oct. 18 after suffering an ankle injury.
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Pettine will meet with Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains today to decide if Hoyer or Manziel will start the game against Washington on Monday night on ESPN.
“I think a lot of things will factor into it, but I’m not concerned about Johnny on a big stage,” Pettine said. “He’s proved throughout his career he can handle it.”
- Pettine said the starters will play “in the neighborhood” of a half against Washington. He has to manage playing time because the turnaround is short to the dress-rehearsal game Saturday, Aug. 23.
- Receivers Josh Gordon (abdominal) and Nate Burleson (hamstring), defensive end Desmond Bryant (wrist), cornerback Aaron Berry (groin), offensive lineman Paul McQuistan (ankle) and inside linebacker Darius Eubanks (shoudler) rode the stationary bikes.
- Outside linebackers Eric Martin (concussion) and Keith Pough (ankle) and offensive linemen Michael Bowie (shoulder) and Randall Harris (knee) weren’t on the field.
- Defensive lineman Billy Winn (abdomen) returned to practice.
- Cornerbacks Joe Haden and Isaiah Trufant and defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin got the day off.
- Defensive lineman Phil Taylor ripped the helmet off center Alex Mack in a short skirmish.