CLEVELAND -- After holding its collective breath for 52 years, Cleveland finally exhaled Sunday night. It followed, of course, a roar of celebration that had been pent up for those same years.
But once the celebration paused -- because it has not ended and will not for some time -- the entire city took the deepest of breaths. Young, old, babies, retirees -- and, yes, every other athlete and front-office type in the city -- sat back and realized that the cloud has been lifted.
When it comes to the Cleveland Browns, the cynical way to look at the Cleveland Cavaliers' NBA championship -- the first title for Cleveland in a major sport since 1964 -- is that all the Browns need to do is fill 20 percent of their roster with superstar, once-in-a-lifetime free-agent players.
That's what the Cavs did, after all, when LeBron James returned home to the team he had left. Suddenly, the Cavs' starting lineup had a superstar. Put four of those players on the Browns -- say Randy Moss, Tom Brady, Lawrence Taylor and Jim Brown in their prime -- and their chances would increase.
But this is not a time for cynicism in Cleveland.
Not merely because the Cavs won, but because there are real lessons for the Browns in what happened with the Cavs.
Luck played a part, certainly. Ping-pong balls falling their way three times for the draft's first overall pick after James departed was simple good fortune. The Browns are overdue for some luck.
The Cavs, though, made something of those picks, which is what the Browns are working to do now. The Cavs drafted the guy who made the "new shot" in Cleveland, Kyrie Irving's game-winner for a championship. They drafted the guys (Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett) who were able to bring Kevin Love, who for all the criticism he receives is a major contributor. Another first-rounder (fourth overall) brought Tristan Thompson, and another fourth-overall pick (Dion Waiters) led to a trade that brought J.R. Smith.
The pieces fit.
The Cavs made use of their opportunities -- buttressed of course, by the presence of a generational player.
The Browns are trying to build with the draft, trying to make smarter decisions with smart people. Fourteen draft picks this year, plus extra-high picks the next two years, should form the core of a team that could and should improve with each season.
The right coach should be able to put it together the way Ty Lue did with the Cavs, and the Browns believe they have that guy in Hue Jackson. Lue's guidance helped; the Browns believe Jackson's will as well.
The Cavs show the importance of drafting well, maximizing opportunity and meshing.
The other thing the Cavs did for the Browns was remove the mantle, the burden, the weight -- whatever you want to call it. Flash-back to former 49ers quarterback Steve Young, who when he finally won a Super Bowl after following Joe Montana, told teammates to take the symbolic weight off his shoulders.
That weight is off the Browns.
No longer when they compete will the questions be asked about how long it's been in the city. Players say it doesn't matter, but living with the reality is stifling, paralyzing. To the point that it constricts what a team is trying to do.
The Browns will have their individual questions, as will the Indians. But the sense of relief and release in the city is palpable.
With this win, the narrative changes -- and if it's just for a short time, then so be it.
The Cavs are champions, the Indians are competing to win their division and could be headed to a playoff spot, and the Browns are building a team for the future.
That is the sense of optimism that the Cavs have imbued in the city.
It is especially what James has imbued. As he said on his return, he is a kid from the streets of Akron. He understands Cleveland sports. He understands the feelings. He understood the pain when he left. His emotions on the court showed he understands what it means to return and win.
Winning does not resolve a city's issues. It will not erase future struggle or disappointment.
But this drought-ending title could do much for the Browns -- if they let the feelings seep in.
Because the burden has been swatted away as thoroughly and completely as James swatted away Andre Iguodala's layup near the end of the game.
That block was as stunning as coming back from a 3-1 deficit, as stunning as James' return, as stunning as the emotion and elation that swept over the city as it realized the Cavs would win.
The Browns can grasp that moment. They may not win a lot this season, but they can build for the time when it can be their moment. Because they can believe in their deepest souls that that moment is out there for them. If the Cavs found theirs, the Browns (and Indians) can find one as well.
The yoke has been lifted.
The Cincinnati Bengals wrapped up their offseason program on Thursday and are expected to open training camp in late July at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Here's a 53-man roster projection:
It's a common Bengals practice to take only two quarterbacks into a season, and Dalton and McCarron certainly have proven capable of leading Cincinnati's offense.
A few of the "cut" running backs, such as fullback Luc or undrafted rookie Mobley, could make the Bengals' practice squad, but the four veterans will all return.
One of the toughest training-camp decisions confronting coaches will be choosing between Kumerow's consistency as a no-drop pass-catcher or keeping the less consistent Mario Alford on the roster for his special-teams versatility. In this scenario, Alford's special teams skills will have to come from somewhere else.
No surprises here. This same foursome should make the roster again.
Offensive linemen (9): Andrew Whitworth, Eric Winston, Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher, Clint Boling, Kevin Zeitler, Russell Bodine, T.J. Johnson, Christian Westerman. (Cut: Alex Cooper, Alex Redmond, Trey Hopkins, Trip Thurman, John Weidenaar, Aaron Epps)
There will be some interesting decisions here, specifically involving Hopkins, a guard who was once viewed as a promising, up-and-coming lineman. Since being signed as an undrafted player in 2014, Hopkins just hasn't dominated at his position. Injuries have contributed to that. Johnson and Westerman might be intriguing additions, but Johnson has been the Bengals' longtime backup center, and aside from Bodine, he has been the only center this spring to snap the ball with adequate consistency. Other young backups struggled in organized team activities and minicamp.
Defensive linemen (10): Carlos Dunlap, Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Andrew Billings, Margus Hunt, Will Clarke, Pat Sims, Marcus Hardison, DeShawn Williams, Possible PUP list -- Brandon Thompson. (Cut: David Dean, Dezmond Johnson, Ryan Brown)
The timetable for Thompson's return from an ACL injury could have an impact on what the Bengals' initial 53-man roster looks like. Although he hopes to be back in time for the season, if the Bengals remain slow and steady with his recovery, he might not be ready by Sept. 11. If that's the case, Williams will have earned a spot after impressing coaches with his tireless work this offseason.
Flowers and Dawson can thank Burfict's three-game suspension for their inclusion on this projection. Because Burfict will eventually return, both will be on the fringe of the roster at some point this year, meaning they could have quite an intriguing position battle looming later this summer. They will try to prove they not only can contribute defensively, but also on special teams. Dawson had flashes of production as a rookie last season, and before he missed all of last season, Flowers' coverage skills were lauded.
Defensive backs (9): Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, George Iloka, Shawn Williams, Darqueze Dennard, Derron Smith, William Jackson III, Chris Lewis-Harris, Josh Shaw. (Cut: Taylor Mays, Chykie Brown, Clayton Fejedelem, Darius Hillary, Corey Tindal, Floyd Raven)
A couple of tough choices here regarding Taylor Mays, who returned this offseason after a year away from Cincinnati, and seventh-round pick Fejedelem. As a good cover safety, Mays deserves a spot on the roster, but depth might make it tough for him to stick. The same goes for Fejedelem, who should be a good practice-squad fit.
This group has been together since 2010. It's not breaking up this year.
The Pittsburgh Steelers wrapped up their offseason program on Thursday and open training camp on July 28 at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. Here’s a 53-man roster projection:
Buzz: Vaughn can sling it, but he’s more a practice-squad project. Gradkowski’s spot is not safe, but his veteran presence will prevail here. The Steelers typically carry three quarterbacks.
Buzz: This is a deep group but the Steelers don’t need to carry more than three backs. The Steelers like Toussaint and want to develop him.
FULLBACK (1): Roosevelt Nix
Buzz: Nix is the only fullback on the 90-man roster, and the offense still values the position. Nix seems safe here.
Buzz: Rogers has the inside track on reps as the backup slot receiver, making it difficult for Norwood or Ayers, both of whom have showed promise, to make the cut. Ayers could be kept for punt-return duties, though. Both are practice-squad candidates.
Buzz: Johnson and Grimble are tough calls. The cap-strapped Steelers could use Spaeth’s $1.137 million in relief, but he’s a trusty veteran, a Mike Tomlin favorite. Grimble’s playmaking could land him on the practice squad for the second straight year.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9): Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert, Alejandro Villanueva, Ryan Harris, Cody Wallace, Jerald Hawkins, Chris Hubbard (cut: B.J. Finney, Quinton Schooley, Matt Feiler, Brian Mihalik)
Buzz: This is arguably the Steelers' deepest position, and the nine-man rotation is pretty clear-cut.
DEFENSIVE LINE (6): Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Dan McCullers, Javon Hargrave, Ricardo Mathews, L.T. Walton (cut: Caushaud Lyons, Johnny Maxey, Giorgio Newberry, Lavon Hooks, Roy Philon, Devaunte Sigler)
Buzz: Lyons could push for a roster spot, but Walton gets the edge as a developmental draft pick, and Mathews is a valuable rotational vet.
LINEBACKER (10): Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, Jarvis Jones, Bud Dupree, Arthur Moats, Vince Williams, Anthony Chickillo, Travis Feeney, Steven Johnson (cut: L.J. Fort, Tyler Matakevich, Steven Johnson, Jordan Zumwalt, Mike Reilly)
Buzz: The Steelers keep six pass-rushers and four inside linebackers in order to develop back-to-back sixth-rounders Chickillo and Feeney. Johnson gets the call over Fort and Matakevich due to special-teams work.
DEFENSIVE BACK (10): William Gay, Mike Mitchell, Artie Burns, Sean Davis, Senquez Golson, Robert Golden, Ross Cockrell, Doran Grant, Shamarko Thomas, Ross Ventrone (Donald Washington, Ray Vinopal, Jordan Dangerfield, Al-Hajj Shabazz, Montell Garner)
Buzz: Don’t be surprised if Washington, a former fourth-rounder and CFL standout, pushes for a spot. Ventrone is still valuable on special teams. The Steelers will give Grant another chance.
Buzz: Two quality kickers, one will probably be elsewhere in 2016. Based on last year’s early season issues with kicking, maybe the Steelers will buck the trend and carry two.
The Cleveland Browns wrapped up their offseason program on June 9 and open training camp on July 29 at the team's facility in Berea, Ohio . Here's a preliminary 53-man roster prediction.
Quarterbacks (3): Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler. McCown sticks as insurance in case of injury to Griffin. Kessler is head coach Hue Jackson's hand-picked rookie, but he could go on the practice squad if Connor Shaw or Austin Davis has a strong preseason.
Running backs (3): Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Terrell Watson. Crowell and Johnson are on the team; the best back in preseason becomes the third. For now, the pick is Watson, whom Jackson watched last season in Cincinnati.
Fullback (1): Malcolm Johnson. Jackson talked him up during the offseason.
Wide receivers (7): Corey Coleman, Andrew Hawkins, Rashard Higgins, Ricardo Louis, Marlon Moore, Jordan Payton, Terrelle Pryor. Josh Gordon remains the wild card. If the team keeps him, he's on the roster and Payton goes to the practice squad. Jackson's infatuation with Pryor bumps Taylor Gabriel. There's an extra receiver here; but Moore's special- teams play earns him a spot. If only six are kept, Payton goes to the practice squad.
Tight ends (3): Gary Barnidge, Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer. Telfer showed well in the offseason, and a coach always favors his guy so DeValve stays. Barnidge's offseason sports-hernia surgery means depth matters.
Offensive line (9): Alvin Bailey, Joel Bitonio, Michael Bowie, Shon Coleman, Spencer Drago, Cam Erving, John Greco, Austin Pasztor, Joe Thomas. This group is heavy in numbers and tackles. Look for the prediction to change after camp.
Defensive line (6): Desmond Bryant, Xavier Cooper, John Hughes, Jamie Meder, Carl Nassib, Danny Shelton. The Browns look thin at this group, though one might guess that Armonty Bryant or Emmanuel Ogbah could play down in certain situations.
Linebackers (10): Armonty Bryant, Demario Davis, Chris Kirksey, Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo, Emmanuel Ogbah, Nate Orchard, Joe Schobert, Justin Tuggle, Scooby Wright III. Wright will earn his spot by making plays in preseason. This group may be heavy in numbers. If Justin Gilbert emerges in camp and preseason, Tuggle's spot could go. Bryant and Ogbah provide pass-rush versatility because they can play with their hand down.
Defensive backs (8): Ibraheim Campbell, Charles Gaines, Joe Haden, Derrick Kindred, Rahim Moore, Jordan Poyer, K'Waun Williams, Tramon Williams. Justin Gilbert got a long look in the offseason with Haden out. He had moments, but struggled with technique. His spot is in jeopardy, though he could earn it back in preseason with sound, consistent play on defense and/or special teams.
Long snapper (1): Charley Hughlett
Placekicker (1): Travis Coons. Though Coons has to show he can get the ball up in the air quickly to stick. Too many of his blocked kicks in 2015 were low.
Punter (1): Andy Lee. One of the best in the league.
The Baltimore Ravens wrapped up their offseason program on Thursday and open training camp on July 28 at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, Maryland. Here’s a 53-man roster projection.
Running backs (4): Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon and Terrance West. Comment: Forsett, Allen and Dixon are locks. West gets the nod over Lorenzo Taliaferro because he's been running ahead of him this offseason. Trent Richardson is a long shot.
Fullback (1): Kyle Juszczyk. Comment: He led all NFL fullbacks with career highs in receptions (41), receiving yards (321) and touchdown catches (four).
Wide receivers (6): Steve Smith Sr., Breshad Perriman, Mike Wallace, Kamar Aiken, Chris Moore and Keenan Reynolds. Comment: Reynolds has been one of the standout players in offseason practices, which gives him the edge over oft-injured Michael Campanaro and Kaelin Clay for the receiver-returner role. Jeremy Butler makes the team if the Ravens keep seven receivers because of his upside at receiver and his impact on special teams.
Tight ends (4): Benjamin Watson, Maxx Williams, Crockett Gillmore and Dennis Pitta. Comment: Darren Waller should make the team on his special-teams ability alone, but how many teams have ever carried five tight ends? Nick Boyle has to serve a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Offensive line (8): LT Ronnie Stanley, LG John Urschel, C Jeremy Zuttah, RG Marshal Yanda, RT Rick Wagner, Alex Lewis, James Hurst and Ryan Jensen. Comment: The biggest question here is whether Hurst and Jensen can keep the final two spots on the offensive line group. The Ravens would want a better option at the No. 3 tackle position but Hurst looks like the choice right now.
Defensive line (7): Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Bronson Kaufusi, Lawrence Guy, Carl Davis, Brent Urban and Willie Henry. Comment: This is perhaps the deepest group of young talent that the Ravens have ever had at this position. It would be tough to keep only six linemen.
Linebackers (8): Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, C.J. Mosley, Kamalei Correa, Zachary Orr, Za'Darius Smith, Albert McClellan and Matthew Judon. Comment: Undrafted rookie Victor Ochi still has a good shot to make this team but the Ravens might try to store him on the practice squad. Time is running out on Arthur Brown, a 2013 second-round draft pick, to develop.
Defensive backs (10): S Eric Weddle, S Lardarius Webb, CB Jimmy Smith, CB Shareece Wright, CB Tavon Young, CB Will Davis, S Kendrick Lewis, CB Jerraud Powers, S Anthony Levine and CB Terrence Brooks. Comment: The decision to go with Brooks over Matt Elam, a 2013 first-round pick, is based on his ability to play multiple positions in the secondary and his contribution on special teams. The upgrade at cornerback with Powers and Young makes Kyle Arrington expendable.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell is entering a crucial stretch in his recovery from two torn ligaments in his right knee. He plans to spend the next six weeks conquering the mental hurdles that come with knee tears. He's a free agent in 2017 but doesn't want to talk about his contract until his knee gets right.
And Bell is thinking big in his recovery -- 2,097 yards big.
That's the rushing total by Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson in 2012, an all-time performance regardless of health. Peterson posted those yards a year removed from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Peterson owned that year. He was captivating.
Bell, who tore his medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in Week 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals, is drawing rehab inspiration from Peterson's work.
Bell, considered one of the game's best after 2,200-plus offensive yards in 2014, has talked with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin about Peterson's response from injury.
"He feels Adrian Peterson is on his Mount Rushmore [because of that season]," Bell said. "The way he responded to the injury, he gave me encouragement."
Though Bell didn't tear his ACL, he feels drawn to standout players in his position group who have dealt with injuries. He admires Los Angeles Rams tailback Todd Gurley for his big rookie year after tearing his ACL as a junior at Georgia.
Bell said he plans to reach out to Peterson at some point to pick his brain. He wants to know about Peterson's brace management -- when to wear it, when to take it off.
"People who overcome injuries, that's how they show how much work they put in," Bell said.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The release of offensive tackle Eugene Monroe was a football decision and had nothing to do with his strong stance on medical marijuana, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Thursday.
Monroe was cut by the Ravens on Wednesday after they were unable to trade him. Harbaugh objected to speculation that Baltimore parted ways with Monroe because of his campaign to get marijuana off the NFL's banned substances list, saying it has "no basis in fact or reality whatsoever."
"Football circumstances change, from the end of the season to now," Harbaugh said. "Football circumstances. One hundred percent football circumstances. That's it. That's all it ever was. It's no reflection on Eugene Monroe in any way. It just has to do with the circumstances with the Ravens and that position."
On Thursday, Monroe told the New York Times that he questions whether his advocacy for medical marijuana led to his dismissal from the Ravens.
“I can’t say for sure whether or not my stance on medical cannabis was the reason the Ravens released me,” Monroe said. “However, as I’ve said in the past, they have distanced themselves from me and made it clear that they do not support my advocacy.”
Harbaugh was asked again whether it's wrong for anyone to insinuate that Monroe's medical marijuana stance played a part in the Ravens' decision.
"That's correct," Harbaugh said. "One hundred percent correct."
Harbaugh made a point to say this organization has always allowed its players to be outspoken, and he brought up how two of his players, Matt Birk and Brendon Ayanbadejo, openly clashed on gay marriage in 2012.
"This organization has always been very forward-thinking, very open and very in front of all kind of issues," Harbaugh said. "We've got a really good track record for all of that, and I'm proud of that. We always allow people to be who they are, believe what they believe and stand up for what they believe in. And that doesn't have anything to do with any football decisions."
Harbaugh said he has "the utmost respect" for Monroe and complimented his work ethic.
"He's going to play. He's going to get picked up," Harbaugh said. "He's going to play very well because he's an excellent football player."
CINCINNATI -- Although they have been present for the Cincinnati Bengals' first two mandatory minicamp practices this week, a pair of key defensive players were noticeably absent from practice drills Wednesday.
Starting linebackers Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict, reportedly overweight at the end of the Bengals' springtime workouts, spent the practice running wind sprints and doing other conditioning drills off to the side. For Maualuga, it was the second straight day of such activity as he also didn't practice during Tuesday's start to the minicamp. Burfict did practice Tuesday, but by Wednesday ended up on the conditioning island with his fellow linebacker.
The Bengals end their minicamp Thursday, kicking off a five-week break until before training camp.
Asked Wednesday if he was concerned at all about the time Maualuga has missed practicing this spring, Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said he was unfazed.
"He's working hard to get where he needs to be, and I've got confidence he will be there," Guenther said.
In addition to missing minicamp practice time, Maualuga also didn't participate in the Bengals' open organized team activities the past three weeks. He was around the facility at the time, but he didn't make it out for practice any days when reporters were present. Burfict, who was limited in the first OTA open to reporters, did participate in all three OTAs media could attend.
Earlier this week on Cincinnati's ESPN radio affiliate, Bengals radio color commentator and former Bengals player Dave Lapham said both Maualuga and Burfict showed up to OTAs overweight.
Last season, the two linebackers were among the Bengals' most prolific tacklers. Maualuga ranked third on the team with 75 tackles and Burfict had 74 through 10 games. Hobbled by recovery from a knee injury, Burfict was unavailable for the first six games of the season. He also will miss the first three this year as he serves a three-game suspension that went into effect in January.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When Steve Smith Sr. suffered a season-ending Achilles injury last year, most expected him to forgo retirement for a year because the ultra-competitive wide receiver wouldn't want his final NFL moment to be getting carried off the field with a towel draped over his head.
But, when asked why he returned given all of the challenges facing him with this injury, Smith provided a different, more goal-oriented answer.
"One thousand receptions," Smith said during the Baltimore Ravens' mandatory minicamp. "That's why, to be honest. Why not? You have to have something to strive for."
Smith needs 39 receptions to become the 14th player in NFL history to achieve that milestone. He would've reached that goal last season if he didn't get injured because he had 46 catches in seven games.
Now Smith's back for some unfinished numerical business. Given that Smith has averaged over five catches per game with Baltimore, he is on pace to eclipse 1,000 catches by midseason.
"I may catch that [1,000th pass] in my uniform, get in my car and go home," Smith said with a smile. "Straight from there, drive all the way from M&T Bank [Stadium] straight to Charlotte, one shot."
Of the 13 players who have made 1,000 catches, six have been eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Four -- Jerry Rice, Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Marvin Harrison -- have been inducted. Only two -- Terrell Owens and Isaac Bruce -- are waiting to get in.
Smith also only needs 68 yards receiving to reach 14,000 yards, which is an important milestone to him and Hall of Fame voters. Five of the seven eligible players to eclipse that mark are in the Hall.
"You think about the Hall of Fame," Smith said. "You think about the Super Bowl. Now with the way news is going, you think about the Pro Bowl in Orlando. You think about a lot of things. Ultimately, it's out of my hands, but I just want to go out and have fun doing it."
That exchanged prompted the foot race that hyped the locker room last week. Shazier, a 240-pound linebacker, outran receivers Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Sammie Coates in the 40 by a convincing margin.
"I just know a lot of people respect my speed now," said Shazier, who added that Darrius Heyward-Bey is the undisputed speedster on the team. "Some might be scared to race [me now]."
Shazier's "certified freak" status widens the potential for a breakout performance in his third NFL season. When healthy, Shazier is the prototypical linebacker for today's NFL. He has the speed to cover receivers and tight ends downfield, the quick burst to rush the passer and the willingness to shoot a rushing gap for a tackle at the line of scrimmage.
The Shazier experiment has taken time to launch. Injuries forced him to miss a combined 11 games in 2014-15 and 2015-16. As a rookie, Shazier was sometimes in the wrong spots while trying to force a big play.
Now, he is cleaning those things up, and he has earned the trust of defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who tasked Shazier with calling the defense in the huddle late in the previous season. Shazier feels like "kind of the voice of the defense" from play to play, he said.
His speed is there, but it's not all about that. Shazier knows mastering the nuances of the game will take his play to a new level before anything else.
"I definitely feel I was starting to peak at the end of last year," Shazier said. "I was starting to understand things a lot better. I just feel more at home in my decision-making."
As Williams sees it, Shazier gets too much credit for his speed because often he's making plays -- including 87 tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception in 2015-16 -- with his mind.
Shazier wants to be aggressive, but going full speed can get him into trouble, as he realized early in his career. Unless they are chasing down a player, Steelers linebackers are reading and reacting before sprinting.
"He's not running 4.3 every play out there," Williams said. "He's just a good all-around linebacker. He's a big, physical [linebacker] who can play in the A gap and play inside the box, then he's extremely rangy and athletic and [can] cover those athletic tight ends."
The operative word is "linebacker." Shazier considers himself a linebacker first -- not the hybrid safety/linebacker that recent NFL drafts have popularized. Butler acknowledges that constant three-receiver sets from offenses can blur the line between safety and linebacker. Basically, the more guys who can cover like a defensive back on the field at once, the better. Sometimes, NFL teams draft a safety who is more like a smaller, quicker linebacker, so they move him closer to the line of scrimmage.
Shazier sort of looks like that hybrid model, at 6-foot-1 without the bulk of some players at his position. But he makes clear that he wants to be a throwback, nasty tackler.
"I see myself as a linebacker," Shazier said. "If the team needs me to do anything, I can do it."
The team will need a whole lot if Shazier is to help fulfill his plans for the defense.
"We feel we can be one of the best," he said.
The focus on Robert Griffin III come training camp will be intense.
The Cleveland Browns have been through quarterback scrutiny the past couple years with Johnny Manziel, but Manziel drew attention mainly for the things he did off the field. Griffin will be under the microscope for his on-field actions.
The story of a former second-overall pick and rookie rockstar trying to piece together his shattered career will be one of the better ones in the NFL. Already, one national NFL writer -- Don Banks of SI.com -- has named Griffin among the top stories to watch in training camp.
The Browns were the only team in the league that reached out to Griffin to be a starter this season. They were the only team in the league to offer him with the kind of money he wound up taking. Griffin didn't so much choose the Browns as they chose him.
Hue Jackson clearly believes he can weave some magic with Griffin. The Browns coach does not lack for confidence, and Griffin seems to be trying whatever Jackson wants.
Tell him to slide? He slides, then pops up and yells loud enough for the neighbors to hear: "Who says he can't slide?"
Tell him to throw the ball away? He throws it over a 15-foot fence that surrounds the practice field.
Tell him to stand in the pocket? He says he'll play any style Jackson wants: read-option, true-option or in the pocket.
Griffin has seemed to embrace the opportunity Jackson has given him -- on and off the field. He sprinted from drill to drill. He clapped loudly before calling his first play in the huddle. He took part in numerous community activities. He took a low-key approach in interviews (though he did refer to a "mic drop" statement -- no pressure, no diamonds).
All of which is progress.
On the field, though, is where Griffin has to prove critics and doubters wrong. Griffin did not play a down for Jay Gruden in Washington last season. Mike Shanahan, the coach who guided him to his rookie of the year award and playoff season, said after Griffin signed with Cleveland that the only way he could succeed was to go back to the read-option style he ran his first season in Washington.
The challenge for Griffin remains the same as it was when he watched last season: At times in every game, a quarterback has to stand in the pocket, read the defense and make a throw. He has to be fundamentally sound. He has to use technique. He has to master the craft of playing the position.
It would be nice to say that he showed that he was doing just that in organized team activities and minicamp. But in the practices open to the media, for every good throw Griffin executed, he had a bad one.
There was a deep throw for a touchdown that ended minicamp, but before that three short passes were tipped, one was intercepted, two others could have been.
In individual drills, Griffin showed off the magic arm that can be so impressive. But in team drills, he threw a lot of short routes, at times displayed poor footwork and often took the checkdown.
OTAs lacked a "wow" moment for Griffin, a stand-up-and-take-notice moment. That lack could be caused by many factors, including what the coach requires on a particular day, but it seems like at some point a throw or a read or a pass would attract attention.
It didn't happen.
Now, there were only six practices open to the media, so that moment could have happened in a closed practice. But it still seems like there should have been at least one in those six open practices.
Griffin is working with as young and inexperienced a group of receivers as the Browns have had in recent memory. Six receivers are rookies or in their first year, one is trying to move from quarterback to receiver (Terrelle Pryor) and the most experienced is a special-teams standout (Marlon Moore). ESPN's Bill Barnwell ranked the Browns’ top three skill players as the league's worst group, and Pro Football Focus ranked the Browns' roster 31st in the league. All that youth must grow with a new quarterback.
Jackson said his offseason approach entailed throwing everything he could at the players to see what they could handle. Once he had learned what they do best, he would pare the plays back to those they would do well with and concentrate on just those in training camp.
In theory, a more focused approach should help the quarterback and the offense.
Griffin can grow into a successful starter. But he showed in the offseason that there is work ahead, and that work will intensify as the season approaches.
Hue Jackson’s QB reclamation project continues.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh told NFL.com that the plan is to bring Steve Smith Sr. back slowly from a season-ending Achilles injury and will hold out the veteran wide receiver for the entire preseason.
Smith is wholeheartedly on board with that.
"I've been very comfortable throughout my career not playing in the preseason," Smith said Wednesday. "So, I don't have a problem with that. [it's] just four games that don't count and the liability of injury. At the senior-citizen age that I am, I think staying out would be good."
Smith, who tore his Achilles tendon Nov. 1, reiterated that there is no firm timetable with his return and that he is taking it "day to day." He hasn't participated in any offseason workouts, but he was jogging at a charity softball game last weekend.
The 37-year-old's one stipulation is he has to do something in training camp in order to get ready for the regular season. Smith will be limited to only route-running in training camp, Harbaugh said.
Smith, who watched minicamp practice Wednesday, was asked whether it's tough being a spectator.
"After watching them practice and seeing all the plays, nah, I'm good," Smith said. "I have no sympathy for them."
Monroe was cut just 27 months after the Ravens gave him $17.5 million in guaranteed money. All Baltimore got in return was 17 starts.
If you're counting at home, that amounts to $1.03 million per start or $17,500 per snap over the past two seasons.
At the time, the Ravens were making the right move to re-sign Monroe in free agency. In 2014, Baltimore had to choose between giving a big-money deal to either Monroe or Michael Oher. In hindsight, you can say it was a no-win situation at left tackle for the Ravens.
Team officials love to use the mantra "Play Like A Raven," and Monroe never could fit the mold. He worked hard in the weight room, and he had the athleticism to be a franchise left tackle. But Monroe lacked the passion and toughness that the Ravens want out of their players.
Monroe tweeted last Friday that the team was distancing itself from him and his medical marijuana campaign. But the reason why the Ravens parted ways with Monroe goes beyond his strong stance on a banned substance.
Ravens officials talked at the NFL combine in February about their desire to re-sign Kelechi Osemele with the intention of using him at left tackle. That was a month before Monroe became the first active player to advocate medical marijuana.
Monroe fell out of favor with Baltimore the past two years, dating back to the 2014 AFC divisional playoff game in New England. He was healthy enough to be active with an ankle injury, but he wasn't able to start, which forced the Ravens to go with James Hurst.
Monroe's last game was in the middle of last season, when he left the Rams game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. Hurst replaced Monroe and got pushed back into Joe Flacco, who suffered a season-ending knee injury.
The Ravens simply couldn't put their trust in Monroe. He started and finished just three of his last 16 games (including playoffs) dating back to Week 16 of last season.
Baltimore was just waiting for Monroe to get medically cleared from his shoulder injury before cutting ties with him. He got the approval from doctors last Wednesday, and he was gone a week later.
Monroe's fate in Baltimore was sealed in April, when the Ravens used the No. 6 overall pick on Notre Dame's Ronnie Stanley. The Ravens weren't going to pay $6.5 million in base salary for a backup.
The Ravens are historically smart in free agency, but the deal with Monroe will rank as the biggest disappointment in the team’s 20-year existence, exceeding the ones given to offensive tackle Leon Searcy (2001) and Domonique Foxworth (2009).
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Leonard Floyd smiled on Wednesday when a reporter referenced Chicago’s obsession over his playing weight.
“I pretty know much know it’s going to be asked every time I step up [to] the podium,” Floyd said politely.
Such is life for Floyd. The ninth overall pick in April's NFL draft has been peppered with questions regarding his body type from the moment he was selected.
The reason for the curiosity is valid. Despite being an athletic 6-foot-4 linebacker with elite speed, Floyd is slender. The Chicago Bears list Floyd at 244 pounds on their official offseason roster, but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio conceded in May that the club expects Floyd to play somewhere between 230 and 235 pounds.
Some believe Floyd played lighter than that in college at Georgia.
To bulk up, the Bears put him on a strength and nutritional program that calls for Floyd to eat every couple of hours. Floyd even sets an alarm on his phone to remind him when to grab some food.
It’s early in the process, but Floyd is pleased with the results.
“Oh, it's going pretty well,” Floyd said. “We've still got the game plan going, every other hour, still sticking to the game plan.
So far I've put on quite a few [pounds]. I can't throw you a number out, but I've been improving.”
Floyd said he is allowed to eat anything he wants.
“It doesn’t get old,” Floyd said. “I try to eat the things I like to eat every other hour, so it doesn’t get old.”
Head coach John Fox maintains the topic of Floyd’s playing weight is overrated. The Bears obviously envision Floyd playing a role on defense in 2016, perhaps as a situational pass-rusher to complement veterans Willie Young and Lamarr Houston. Whether Floyd is built to be a four-down player, in his rookie season, is unknown.
“He’s got tremendous athleticism; we talked about that even in the draft process,” Fox said. “He’s very smart, has played a lot of different positions, understands the game, and he has the skill set to do all parts of his job, both in coverage and as far as rush. A lot’s been made of his weight, but it’s been my experience that they get better -- as I think we all do. But I like the way he’s gone about it, and I see a lot of that athleticism we saw on tape.
"He plays pretty strong anyways. A lot of times it’s not all about size, it’s about playing forcefully.”