Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Takeaways from Browns practice and interview sessions …
Keeping the faith: All year long – going back to the uncertainty of Josh Gordon’s availability, the trade of Corey Coleman, the release of Jeff Janis, and then the trade of Gordon – the Browns have resisted the temptation to bring in a high-profile veteran receiver, such as Dez Bryant.
And now in the season’s sixth week, with improved Rashard Higgins going down for a couple games with a knee sprain, the Browns are sticking to their plan to develop their own.
“We believe in them. We drafted them. We put them on this team, and they have been with us through OTAs, training camp, preseason and into the season,” said coach Hue Jackson. “They know our system and what is expected. That has a lot to do with it.
“If you are going to put somebody on the team, it needs to be a substantial upgrade than what you have because that person is probably going to have to spend some time learning what to do and how to do it so there is a huge curve there. Why not trust in the guys that you have here and let’s really put our resources into those guys and do everything we can to be the best they can be?”
That decision is easier, of course, when an untested receiver comes through, as did Derek Willies in the Baltimore game. The long and fast undrafted rookie made the play of the day when he and Baker Mayfield teamed for a 39-yard scramble-drill pass play to help set up the winning field goal against the Ravens.
“That’s why I was so proud of Willies and made sure I pointed that out to the entire group, that this is how it works,” said coordinator Todd Haley. “You develop your own. Next man up. Somebody goes down and ideally somebody you’ve been training and coaching steps in and gets the job done. I’m excited to see these guys go out and get better."
Bryant made a very public visit to Browns camp captured on Hard Knocks during training camp. The Browns reportedly made a one-year contract offer of $5 million to the ex-Cowboy, but he decided to hold out for a better opportunity, which hasn’t come. Recently, the Browns worked out out-of-work veteran Rishard Matthews, and there have been unpublicized others.
But the Browns keep seeing things in the young receivers to hold firm. Streater was brought in after the trade of Gordon to New England on Sept. 17, but he hasn’t gotten a lot of play time and most recently was used as a gunner on punt team.
“It comes back to what do we have here, and what are they capable of and what do we think the ceiling is,” Haley said. “The further you go, I think the more you’d like to see your own guys step in and do the job.”
There’s a fine line between making a panic-stricken move and missing an opportunity to improve the team. Those decisions are made easier when younger players develop and then seize their opportunity.
Thanks for asking: After Haley gave his weekly dissertation on the offense needing to eliminate negative plays and mental errors, he was asked about the ill-fated, double-reverse play-call in the Baltimore game, on which Streater lost 11 yards after a pitch from Duke Johnson and buried the offense at its own 5-yard line with 2:57 left in overtime.
“Dumb call,” Haley said. “When they don’t work, they’re dumb. That was a dumb call. And I heard from [Bill] Parcells immediately. You just have to stick the knife in again. I get it.”
Mayfield saved the day with a 13-yard scramble and then hooked up with Willies on third-and-8 for the 39-yard catch-and-run.
He’s still Hollywood: Higgins is bummed out he’ll miss a couple games – he insists only one – with a sprained knee because he feels he and Mayfield really have a productive chemistry going. Higgins is averaging 15.3 yards on 16 receptions and scored the only touchdown in the Baltimore game.
Mayfield often refers to Higgins as “Higgy,” so I asked if that has taken over from “Hollywood” as his nickname.
“That’s just what he calls me. When we get on the field, I’m Hollywood,” Higgins said while sporting a pendant with Hollywood spelled out in diamond letters.
In the lab: Rookie Austin Corbett and veteran Earl Watford have essentially been alternating as the seventh offensive lineman active on game days. If you think Corbett, the 33rd overall pick of the 2018 draft is just wasting away, you would be wrong.
The role of the seventh lineman has been two-fold – to serve as a tackle-eligible blocker in short-yardage situations and also to be prepared as the backup center if anything happened to stalwart starter JC Tretter.
During the practice week, away from the gaze of media closed out of the bulk of practice, Corbett has been training at center – the one position least familiar to him but possibly his future spot.
“I’ve been getting a lot of work there, a pretty good amount,” Corbett said. “It’s [scout] team stuff but we do a lot of extra stuff, as well.
Corbett started 49 games at left tackle in four years at Nevada, but was projected as a guard and actually played one quarter at center at the Senior Bowl. With Joel Bitonio and Kevin Zeitler entrenched as the Browns starting guards, Corbett’s quickest ticket to the starting lineup could be at center.
“I’m getting used to it, starting to settle down, just getting the rhythm of snaps,” Corbett said. “I’ve really liked it so far. I like the smart part of a football game, understanding defenses and schemes and make calls. I kind of like that.”
This is no reflection on Tretter, mind you. He’s signed through 2019 and there is no indication of a change coming soon. But it could be Corbett’s future.
Take a bow: Joe Thomas will be feted in the first quarter of the Chargers game for his mind-boggling streak of playing every snap at left tackle in his Browns career.
The number of Thomas’ streak – 10,363 – formally will be added to the Browns’ Ring of Honor, making Thomas the first addition since the Ring was inaugurated in 2010. The inaugural class consisted only of the 16 members of the Browns in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The ceremonies will include a can’t-miss appearance at halftime by the famed Ohio University Marching 110, which will pay tribute to Thomas with a special choreographed performance.