Friday, August 29, 2014

Bears exhibition leftovers

It happened in a flash. No one saw it coming.

Not the fans. Not the Browns’ coaches. Not the Chicago Bears.

It was a simple quick hitter on third-and-1 at the Chicago 48-yard line in Thursday night’s exhibition victory over the Bears. It was not designed to result in a touchdown.

When Isaiah Crowell took the handoff from quarterback Connor Shaw, his initial intent was to make the first down. Scoring was the last thing on his mind.

But that’s exactly what happened when Crowell headed toward the line of scrimmage as though shot out of a cannon and, voila, there was a hole between left tackle and left guard with nothing between him and the goal line.

Left tackle Abasi Salimu picked off his man closing from the backside, while left guard Martin Wallace drove his man out and to the right, giving Crowell just enough of a seam to burst through.

And he knew exactly what to do with it, hitting the seam with astonishing quickness and speed, then outracing the rapidly catching-up Chicago secondary to the end zone. It was the type of run rarely seen by a member of the Browns backfield.

Theoretically, every play is designed to wind up in a touchdown. And when it happens, the euphoric feeling is palpable among the fans and players. Coaches, too. It lingered well after the game.

Crowell’s run probably will be remembered as the highlight of the 2014 exhibition season. But it is yesterday’s news and that grows old in a hurry.

Now Salimu, a rookie, will not make the final roster. Wallace, a second-year man, has a chance to be a backup at tackle and guard. And if the undrafted Crowell doesn’t make club with the final cut Saturday, plenty of eyebrows will be raised in surprise.

He just might have played himself onto the final 53 with his 102-yard game, easily eclipsing fellow rookie Terrance West’s relatively lackluster performance in the four exhibitions.
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Might not be a bad idea for Johnny Manziel to teach Brian Hoyer how to slide when on the run. The rookie quarterback scrambled out of the backfield twice against the Bears and picked up significant yardage before sliding to avoid the hit. He knows how and when to slide.

Hoyer, who ripped up his knee sliding against the Buffalo Bills last season, is not as agile as the play-extending Manziel, but he will on occasion have to take off this season. He is just one awkward slide away from elevating Manziel to the starting job.
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He played just three series, but the Cleveland offense sure looked different when Rex Grossman entered the game midway through the third quarter. There was a cohesion that seems to be hit and miss with Hoyer and Manziel under center.

The veteran quarterback was working with players who most likely won’t be with the club after 4 p.m. Saturday. His first pass to wide receiver Willie Snead on a deep crossing route down the middle was right on target and hit Snead in stride. Not bad for someone who joined the team just a couple of weeks ago.

Familiarity with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s scheme is the main reason Grossman is in Cleveland. Manziel is his main target. The sooner Manziel’s grasps the concepts of the pro game, the better off the Browns will be. But it’s nice to know he can strap on the helmet in an emergency and not embarrass himself or the team.
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Fans have discovered rookie linebacker Chris Kirksey to be a ball magnet thus far, but they are also finding out he’s a pretty good tackler, a distinct plus on a team that has trouble tackling.

It shouldn’t be surprising because Kirksey played his college ball at Iowa. The Hawkeyes are noted for turning out fundamentally sound players well prepared to play in the National Football League.

That’s because they are coached up by a staff headed by Kirk Ferentz, Bill Belichick’s offensive line coach with the Browns in the 1990s before becoming a successful Big Ten Conference head coach.
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Top draft choice Justin Gilbert, who probably will start opposite Joe Haden at cornerback, had better be a quick learner if the Browns expect him to be an impact player. He arrived with the reputation of being a solid cover corner whose tackling ability was suspect. The latter was apparent in the exhibition season, but his cover skills have been well short of expectations.

Veteran wideout Santonio Holmes, trying to hang on with the Bears, schooled Gilbert in the second quarter, grabbing a short pass near the sideline, faking a move inside, then whirling to his right and speeding down the sideline, leaving Gilbert grasping for air. Instead of forcing Holmes inside, where he had plenty of help, Gilbert did the exact opposite. The result was a 32-yard touchdown.
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Notebook: Hoyer wasn’t happy with himself when he missed a wide-open Jordan Cameron in the end zone on his only series of the evening. The Browns scored a few plays later, but Hoyer has to make that play. . . . Manziel’s best throw of the evening was his first, a 30-yard strike to tight end Gary Barnidge, who dropped it with no one near him. It was a tad late, but still should have been caught. . . . Manziel seems most comfortable running the zone-read. His quick feet enable him to break contain and quickly get to the perimeter. . . . The Cleveland running game will be greatly improved this season mainly because of Ray Agnew. The rookie fullback is a terrific blocker, but has also displayed soft hands and could be a factor in the passing game. . . . Manziel has to become more careful with the ball. He sometimes holds it like a loaf of bread. He lost it once against the Bears while being sacked, but got lucky when a teammate recovered it. . . . Stickouts included wideouts Taylor Gabriel and Willie Snead, cornerback Jordan Poyer and linebacker Jamaal Westerman. 

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