AFC North: Cleveland Browns

BrownsKen Blaze/USA TODAY SportsThe Browns are going into the season with Josh McCown, left, as their starter and a hobbled Johnny Manziel as the backup, with little to count on behind them.


The Cleveland Browns have said they are not worried about their backup quarterback situation.

I wonder how they can’t be.

Not just about the backups but about the group as a whole. It merely takes a realistic assessment to generate concern.

The Browns are going with Josh McCown as the starter. He’s done a lot of good things in preseason and he’s a tremendous individual, but his track record remains his track record. He’s 36. He’s never started 16 games in a season. He’s had one year in 12 when he had a winning record as a starter. His career completion percentage is 59 and his career rating is 76.1.

McCown has done all the Browns have asked, and generally done it well. But to assume he’ll transform into a starter who can guide a team to the playoffs is assuming Frodo will play running back. There’s just nothing in McCown’s past to justify the belief.

Which would lead to the logical conclusion that the Browns fortified the backup spot in case McCown does not play 16 games.

They didn’t.

They depended on Johnny Manziel coming off a disaster (his word) of a rookie season and 10 weeks of rehab to be whole physically and mentally.

Manziel has shown signs of growth, on and off the field. His actions off the field have been professional and proper. He’s drawn little attention to himself.

On the field, he’s shown improvement. But that improvement has to be measured against the low bar Manziel set following his rookie season. The way he played in 2014, anything positive would be an improvement. Manziel may be more ready than he was a year ago, but if he has a heartbeat he’s more ready than he was a year ago.

Now Manziel has a sore elbow. His status would seem to be week-to-week. The Browns insist that treatment and rest and getting away from training camp will solve the issue.

It would be great if that happened.

But when a 22-year-old has an elbow issue, it’s a concern. And coach Mike Pettine admitted that not knowing when the backup will be healthy causes “angst.”

Perhaps the Browns could not have anticipated the elbow situation. That’s fair. But at the least, the Browns knew in the offseason that there would be uncertainty with Manziel given his 10-week stay in rehab.

What did they do to fortify the backup spot?

Sign Thad Lewis and proudly proclaim at the NFL spring meetings “don’t sleep on Connor Shaw.” Shaw started one game a year ago, and is done for the season after thumb surgery. Lewis has six career starts and has not been in a game since 2013. After being sacked six times and throwing a pick-six in the preseason finale, Lewis also may be headed to the waiver wire.

Which leaves the Browns with McCown and his track record and Manziel and his uncertainties.

Oh, and Terrelle Pryor, who played quarterback Thursday night despite the strong statements from the team that if Pryor made the team it would have to be as a receiver. Well, this receiver appears headed to the roster without a single preseason reception -- or a single preseason pass thrown his way.

If Manziel’s elbow heals, he can be the backup the way he was last season. The Browns carried two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster in 2014, and Shaw on the practice squad. Given the distance Manziel has to travel and McCown’s history, it's dicey. But it can work.

Keep in mind, though, that in each of the last two seasons the Browns used three starting quarterbacks.

If Manziel's elbow doesn't heal, then perhaps Lewis stays or the Browns sign another quarterback off the waiver wire. The waiver wire may even come into play if they keep only McCown and Manziel.

That is never ideal -- a new guy coming in the week of the opener having to learn a new offense with a new team and new teammates. It’s a tough transition.

The Browns, though, are not overly concerned.

Best hope they are right.

The Cleveland Browns will have an unusual final 53-man roster. It appears the team will keep at least seven receivers; coach Mike Pettine said it could be eight. That’s a very high number. I’m predicting the team keeps only two quarterbacks as well — but that is based on Johnny Manziel being healthy. The Browns had 12 draft picks. Not all of them will make the team.

Here's a predicted 53-man roster coming out of the preseason and heading into Saturday's roster moves.:

QUARTERBACK (2)

Josh McCown

Johnny Manziel

This assumes Manziel’s elbow is OK. If so, he’s the backup and the Browns roll the dice with two quarterbacks. If not, the Browns have to figure a way to keep a third. Do not discount the possibility that they bring in a different No. 3 after cuts, especially if Matt McGloin is cut by the Raiders.

RUNNING BACK (3)

Terrance West

Isaiah Crowell

Duke Johnson

The coaching staff loves Shaun Draughn, but the Browns can make it work with these three backs.

FULLBACK (1)

Malcolm Johnson.

There are high hopes for this sixth-round pick. It's a projection due to the time Johnson missed with a shoulder injury.

TIGHT END (3)

Gary Barnidge

Jim Dray

E.J. Bibbs

Bibbs did too much right not to keep him. He’s a tight end who might be able to do something with the ball after the catch. Rob Housler just didn’t do enough to earn a spot.

WIDE RECEIVER (7)

Dwayne Bowe

Brian Hartline

Andrew Hawkins

Taylor Gabriel

Travis Benjamin

Marlon Moore

Terrelle Pryor

Vince Mayle is not included because he didn’t earn it. This is one negative on Ray Farmer’s drafting — in two of the best receiver drafts in a long time, he wound up with a slow guy who had trouble catching the ball. Pryor’s spot is based on a projection. If it went off what he did in preseason, he’d be cut. But the team sees potential in him, and playmaking, so they give him a chance. As for Bowe and not Josh Lenz, Bowe is guaranteed $9 million. That demands production from him. He stays.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Joe Thomas

Joel Bitonio

Alex Mack

John Greco

Mitchell Schwartz

Cameron Erving

Andrew McDonald

Vinston Painter

Coaches were impressed with the quiet professionalism and attitude of McDonald. Painter’s versatility gives him a spot. The starting five are solidly locked in.

DEFENSIVE LINE (8)

Randy Starks

Danny Shelton

Desmond Bryant

John Hughes

Xavier Cooper

Billy Winn

Jamie Meder

Armonty Bryant

Obviously I was wrong in assuming before camp opened that Phil Taylor would have a spot but Winn would not. Good for Winn for proving me wrong. Dylan Wynn did a lot right, but there’s a numbers game here and he just misses. Bryant’s versatility and playmaking ability earn him the final spot, though it’s at line and not linebacker.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER (4)

Paul Kruger

Scott Solomon

Barkevious Mingo

Nate Orchard

Mingo’s fast recovery from knee surgery helps solidify the depth at this spot. Solomon had a strong third preseason game.

INSIDE LINEBACKER (3)

Karlos Dansby

Craig Robertson

Chris Kirksey

Not much debate needed here. These are all quality players. Rookie Hayes Pullard heads to the practice squad. One caveat: The Browns' backup offensive line hardly distinguished itself all preseason. If the team decides to keep seven instead of eight, a spot opens up here for Tank Carder.

CORNERBACK (6)

Joe Haden

Tramon Williams

K'Waun Williams

Justin Gilbert

Pierre Desir

Charles Gaines

The Browns won’t give up on Gilbert this early. But they need to see him contribute more. K’Waun Williams is a quality player, but he also seems injury-prone. That must be a concern. Gaines improved every day of camp and preseason.

SAFETY (5)

Tashaun Gipson

Donte Whitner

Johnson Bademosi

Ibraheim Campbell

Jordan Poyer

Campbell was very impressive. He has a future if he continues to grow. Bademosi makes it for his special-teams ability.

SPECIALIST (3)

Travis Coons

Andy Lee

Charley Hughlett

Coons won the preseason competition with Carey Spear to be the place-kicker, but the Browns will take a long look at any veterans released in final cuts. Lee will be one of the team’s most important weapons as the punter.

Unusual things were happening with Dwayne Bowe in the Cleveland Browns’ final preseason game, a 24-0 loss to the Chicago Bears on Thursday night.

But amid much discussion about Bowe’s precarious position on the roster by the announcers on the Browns-produced TV broadcast -- specifically from analyst Solomon Wilcots -- coach Mike Pettine told the media after the game that Bowe’s roster spot was not in danger.

If it were, it would be a serious negative on the team’s offseason. Bowe was the team’s premier free agent signing, added to bolster a receiving group that needed help. Further evidence of Bowe’s stature: He was guaranteed $9 million.

But on Thursday night the Browns let 21 players rest, among them tight end Jim Dray, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton.

Bowe’s name was not among them. He started, played the entire first half and into the third quarter.

Definitely atypical.

Bowe has promised big things since he was signed. But a hamstring injury prompted him to miss 21 days of camp. He shrugged off the missed time, saying nine years in the league allowed him to miss time and not fall behind.

Wilcots kept saying during the telecast that offensive coordinator John DeFilippo had serious discussions with Bowe before the finale about the veteran needing to produce.

He caught one pass for eight yards, his only preseason reception. On a third-quarter play, Bowe did not get past a Bears cornerback deep on the depth chart to catch up to a lob from Thad Lewis. It looked as if he didn’t really go after the ball, either, but that was based merely on the TV broadcast.

Bowe has talked big since joining the Browns. He’s ever-positive and upbeat, but he’s averaged just two touchdowns the last three seasons and the last time he had a touchdown reception was the 13th week of the 2013 season.

ProFootballReference.com uses analytics to assess the careers of players, and how they compare to other players at the same position.

Included in the list of comparable players to Bowe are Fred Barnett, Mike Quick, Flipper Anderson and Jerrico Cotchery.

The guaranteed money the Browns gave Bowe brings expectations.

Keep in mind that general manager Ray Farmer was the main person responsible for signing Bowe, and he will have final say on the 53-man roster. But the coaches are the ones who decide how players are used on the field.

videoIt’s not at all a surprise that Browns offensive lineman Joe Thomas agreed with the decision to lift Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension.

Thomas had previously been very critical of commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to suspend Brady, calling it a witch hunt with little foundation.

Judge Richard Berman vacated the suspension in U.S. District Court in a decision highly critical of Goodell and the NFL’s decision-making process.

Thomas wrote “no surprise there” about the decision in an e-mail following the Browns’ 24-0 loss to the Bears in the preseason finale.

“I think everyone is pretty clear it was a witch hunt from the start and that Goodell overstepped his bounds by disciplining Brady the way he did,” Thomas wrote. “The only question is, does Goodell now realize this or will he still be oblivious to the fact that his discipline is consistently overturned on appeal and that he may in fact have been wrong?

“The true test of a leader is making a mistake, realizing and admitting it and not making the same mistake again. Will he be more moderate in the future? Only time will tell?”

Terrelle Pryor finally got on the field for the Cleveland Browns, and the quarterback trying to move to wide receiver had his biggest impact at … quarterback.

Pryor started the second half of the preseason finale in Chicago, a 24-0 Bears victory. He had no receptions and no targets, but two carries from quarterback off the read-option. The quarterback plays indicate the Browns clearly plan to use Pryor at the spot, and that he likely has made the team.

But it was odd given the team’s insistence throughout training camp and preseason that if Pryor made the team, he had to do it as a receiver.

This receiver appears to have made the team without a preseason reception.

Terrelle PryorAP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastTerrelle Pryor made his preseason debut and had two carries from quarterback off the read-option.

What of Dwayne Bowe? Nine-year veteran starters aren’t supposed to start fourth preseason games, much less play in the second half. Bowe did both. Solomon Wilcots, the Browns preseason analyst, said the team wanted to get a good long look at Bowe, who missed a lot of preseason with a hamstring injury, then shrugged it off as if the missed time didn’t matter. Wilcots also said Bowe was definitely in danger of being cut. Bowe’s on-field response: One reception for eight yards, and a deep ball down the sideline that he made little effort to try to reach.

QB depth chart: Thad Lewis started and did little to force his way on the team, throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown and losing a fumble that the Bears recovered. For the night, Lewis was 14-for-20 for 100 yards, with no touchdowns, one interception and a 60.4 rating. He also was sacked six times and nearly intercepted a second time. Though Lewis started 12-for-13, he did not have a great night.

QB roster decisions: The question the Browns must answer is whether they keep two quarterbacks or three when the final roster decisions are made on Saturday. Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel will be on the roster. Will Lewis? This decision may come down to Manziel’s health. If the Browns believe he is ready to go, they may keep just two.

Rookie watch: Fourth round pick Vince Mayle seems to be in serious danger of not making the team. Mayle missed the offseason work after having surgery on his thumb. Then in training camp and preseason he had the double whammy no receiver wants. He played tentative and did not hang on to the ball. Mayle had a mixed night in Chicago, making a tackle on a kickoff and punt, but then being flagged for an illegal block in the back negating a big return by Darius Jennings. His receiving numbers: two catches for 17 yards for the game, five for 52 yards for the preseason. Mayle really has shown nothing that would warrant a roster spot.

One reason to freak out: The Browns continue to insist that Manziel’s elbow will be fine and he’ll throw. Pregame announcers said that Manziel threw with a tennis ball for a few days, then a heavy ball. He will be examined Friday, when a determination will be made when he will resume throwing in practice. If Manziel is back, he’s the backup. But if he’s not, the backup spot is wide open. Would the Browns have to scan the waiver wire after cuts to see who is out there?

Tough break: Undrafted rookie receiver Jennings has had a good camp and preseason, but he’s in a numbers game. He didn’t help himself when he made an unfortunate mistake when he fumbled while running after catching a receiver screen. Jennings has been productive, but those are the kind of plays that can cost a roster spot.

Terrelle PryorAP Photo/Ron SchwaneReceiver Terrelle Pryor has yet to play for the Browns this preseason.

The Cleveland Browns conclude the preseason at 8:00 p.m. ET Thursday against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Here’s a couple things to watch for during the game:

Why watch: With most of the Browns starters and bigger names not playing -- including Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel -- this game is for those fighting for a roster spot. The game matters to fourth-round pick Vince Mayle, who has not had a good preseason or camp. It matters for receiver Terrelle Pryor, the former quarterback who has not stepped foot on the field during a game or scrimmage in preseason. Despite that, Pryor’s chances of making the team seem greater than Mayle’s. Others of interest to watch Thursday tonight: Nose tackle Jamie Meder, whose aggressive play was part of the reason the team let Phil Taylor go, as well as defensive lineman Dylan Wynn, tight ends E.J. Bibbs and Rob Housler, and cornerback Charles Gaines. All are fighting to make the 53.

Did you know: The fourth game clearly matters to Mike Pettine. One year ago in the preseason finale against Chicago, Isaiah Crowell ran for 102 yards on 13 carries, including a 48-yard touchdown. To that point, Crowell had gotten little playing time. But he did so well that Pettine admitted the Browns knew they could not sneak him on the practice squad and kept him on the roster. Crowell went on to have an impressive rookie season, with 607 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. He is living proof that the fourth game matters.

Johnny Manziel explained his arm issues with the Cleveland media on Tuesday, and in doing so said this situation will be ongoing during the season.

“I don’t expect it to go away completely because this is kind of an injury where I will feel a little bit of tightness, your elbow will get sore just from being a quarterback and throwing,” Manziel said, according to a transcript released by the team. “That is not anything out of the ordinary.”

The team has had that same minimal-concern stance since Manziel first was held out of practice Aug. 11. It’s something he has managed, the team said, and rest and treatment combined with the reduced stress of getting away from training camp will fix the issue.

Johnny ManzielKen Blaze/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel says his elbow issue might linger but he expects to be available for the opener.

But Manziel also said that while he can understand how a sidearm throw stresses his arm, he feels the elbow on more standard throws.

“When I rolled to the left [against Buffalo] and threw a 40-to-50 yard pass to Darius Jennings, that play didn’t hurt as much as sometimes stepping up in the pocket and throwing a regular ball,” Manziel said. “It is kind of come and go.”

In addition, Manziel said the elbow was “a little more painful” heading into the Tampa Bay game after a few days off.

The easy track on this tale would be to be alarmist. This is a 22-year-old who has yet to win in the NFL dealing with an elbow issue that sidelined him for part of camp, an elbow issue that he said he does not expect to go away during the season. Manziel said the issue even prompted the Browns to check with several specialists about treatment, including renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews.

But neither Manziel nor the Browns are being the least bit alarmist about it.

Manziel said it would take icing and “doing what I need to do” to treat it.

“It is really something that I have dealt with every football season from the time I was a freshman at (Texas) A&M,” he said.

Will he throw before the opener Sept 13 ? “Sure,” Manziel said.

Mike Pettine offered this word of caution on the subject: If Manziel does not throw before the opener, he probably will be the No. 3 QB or be inactive.

“We’re not going to roll the dice,” Pettine said, adding: “We’re confident that he will be where he needs to be. And like I said before, if we’re not, then we’ll address it appropriately.”

Phil Taylor, Jake LockerWade Payne/APPhil Taylor, like most of the Browns' first-round draft picks recently, was a big miss.


Call it Cleveland Browns irony.

The same week that Julio Jones is given a $71 million contract extension with the Atlanta Falcons, the Browns release Phil Taylor.

This is a pair who will be forever linked because the Browns traded out of the 2011 pick that Atlanta used to get Jones -- then selected Taylor and three other players.

None remain with the Browns.

While Atlanta made away with a Pro Bowl receiver it targeted, the Browns wound up with Taylor, receiver Greg Little, fullback Owen Marecic and the first round pick in 2012 that turned out to be quarterback Brandon Weeden.

If there's a tale that highlights why the Browns have struggled to win since 1999, the Taylor/Jones saga is the one. The Browns turned away from a playmaker on offense for a defensive run stuffer, a receiver who missed his senior season, a then-28-year-old quarterback and a fullback who never contributed.

Then-GM Tom Heckert had reasons for making the deal. The Browns were 5-11 in 2010 and Heckert felt they needed a number of players rather than one talented one, especially since there were still questions about the quarterback.

Taylor was not a bad choice. The big guy was talented, popular with teammates and fans and absolutely loved Cleveland.

But he’s played for three different defensive coordinators in four seasons, bounced from nose to end and back, and was asked to do different things by each.

Last season the Browns wanted Taylor to play his technique and hold the middle, but his personality led him to attack. That led coaches to move him back to end, and he had his best game as a Brown in the Thursday night win in Cincinnati in November.

But that was the game where he re-injured his knee. Surgery followed. It’s tough for a 340-pound man to come back from the knee procedure Taylor had. He tried, but the Browns decided to let him go, making him a first-round pick who didn't even see his fifth season.

From 2011-2014 the Browns' painful-to-ponder first-round picks were Taylor (cut on Tuesday), Trent Richardson (long gone and released this week by Oakland), Weeden (the backup in Dallas), linebacker Barkevious Mingo (still trying to prove himself in Cleveland and a backup), cornerback Justin Gilbert (troubled and a backup) and quarterback Johnny Manziel (out with elbow tendinitis and a backup).

It appears the Browns hit on Danny Shelton this year, but the Browns took Richardson third, Mingo sixth, Gilbert eighth and traded the sixth pick to move down and take Taylor.

Most teams would feast on the idea of four top eight picks in four seasons.

The Browns turn them into folly with a combination of impatience, change, poor choices, bad luck and bad decision-making.

Taken together, it’s a major ingredient in the losing recipe.

Phil TaylorNick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesThe Browns cut their 2011 first-round pick Phil Taylor, who is still guaranteed $5.4 million.


Analysis from the Cleveland Browns moves to bring the roster to 75 players ...

Most significant move: Releasing a first-round pick is always an eyebrow-raiser, and the Browns did that when they let Phil Taylor go. The defensive lineman was the 21st choice in Round 1 when the Browns traded down in the 2011 draft and gave Atlanta the pick that turned into wide receiver Julio Jones. While Jones has gone on to be a star, Taylor had a decent and injury-plagued four seasons. The injury that ended Taylor's tenure with the Browns came last November, as he started at end in a Thursday night game in Cincinnati after missing several games. Taylor played one of his best games as a Brown, but he re-injured his knee in the game and needed what coach Mike Pettine called a significant procedure to fix it. It's never easy for a 340-pound man to come back from significant knee surgery. Taylor hadn't played in 10 months before he took part in the third preseason game against Tampa Bay. The Browns were willing to swallow Taylor's $5.4 million guaranteed salary.

Changing of the line: Taylor wasn't the only nose tackle released. Also let go was Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, who was a significant contributor last season. The drafting of Danny Shelton and the rise of Jamie Meder forced Taylor and Kitchen out, as the Browns are getting younger and a little quicker off the ball on the defensive line. Out are big, hold-the-point guys like Kitchen and Taylor, in are more active players like Meder, Shelton and Xavier Cooper.

The kicker: Travis Coons won the placekicking competition, for now. The team release Carey Spear. Coons can breath a little easier, but can't relax. It's always possible the Browns could scan the waiver wire to see if a veteran comes available after final cuts are made.

What's next: The Browns have some big decisions to make at receiver as the roster must reach 53 on Saturday. Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel and Travis Benjamin seem assured of spots. Coach Mike Pettine has said Marlon Moore will be on the team because of his special teams abilities. That leaves Terrelle Pryor as perhaps the seventh receiver, with rookie Vince Mayle lurking after an unimpressive preseason and training camp. Seven receivers would be a lot, eight would be a horde. How the Browns handle that position could come down to how things go in the preseason finale in Chicago.

Browns cuts: Released TE Anthony Ezeakunne, WR Shane Wynn, RB Jalen Parmele, FB Luke Lundy, DL Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, DL Phil Taylor, LB Everette Brown, LB Moise Fokou, DB Aaron Ross, PK Carey Spear. Placed on injured reserve were OL Michael Bowie (shoulder) and QB Connor Shaw (thumb). Placed on Reserve/Non-football injury were DB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (knee), TE Randall Telfer (foot), RB Glenn Winston (knee).

Josh McCownAP Photo/David RichardVeteran QB Josh McCown has been everything the Browns wanted since they signed him.

A quick observation of quarterback Josh McCown and how he has played in preparation for the season opener Sept. 13 against the New York Jets.

It's tough to know at times where the thumb should go when assessing a Cleveland Browns quarterback. Perhaps in a dike. The Browns have spent every season since 1999 trying to find their guy.

This season they've settled on a 36-year-old who lost 10 of 11 starts in 2014. But McCown has been everything the Browns wanted since they signed him. He has been professional. He has competed and helped those around him. He has learned the system, the calls, the audibles. He adamantly refuses to get involved in any quarterback competition, controversy or anything that might hurt the team. He has done his job and done it reasonably well.

Coming off Saturday's 17-for-23 performance in Tampa Bay, McCown is 29-for-38 for the preseason with three touchdowns and a rating over 90. He's also healthy, unlike backup Johnny Manziel.

For the Browns, this is progress. I was as critical as anyone of the decision to sign McCown, but he's been impressive with his work, attitude and competitiveness. McCown can't be held responsible for the gaffes of previous seasons. For what he's been asked to do and what he's done, he's done well.

Josh McCown had a good night in the Cleveland Browns' 31-7 win in Tampa Bay, but Duke Johnson’s concussion took a bit of the glow away.

The Browns waited until the third preseason game to get a look at their rookie running back, then started him against Tampa Bay.

Johnson touched the ball twice, running once for four yards and catching one pass for a yard. But the third time the Browns looked to Johnson was on a short pass that was thrown late. That allowed safety Mike Jenkins to put a hit on Johnson that sent the rookie’s mouthpiece flying.

He was soon taken to the locker room, where he was ruled out of the rest of the game with a concussion. Johnson now enters the league’s concussion protocol, and there is no way of telling how long he may be out.

It would seem highly unlikely Johnson will play in the preseason finale Thursday night in Chicago, which means Johnson could head to the regular season with very little game experience.

“If you were to say the biggest downer of the night,” coach Mike Pettine said, “that would be it.”

Josh McCownScott Audette/APJosh McCown won't play Thursday in the Browns' final preseason game.

McCown’s night was a good one as he shrugged off some big hits on scrambles — Petitne spoke to him about being smarter — to lead two long touchdown drives. The first went 16 plays and 80 yards, the second 11 plays and 78 yards. On the first, McCown twice scrambled for first downs, declining to slide both times and taking shots both times.

Then, on a late first-half drive, McCown did a Johnny Manziel and turned his back to the line to roll left. As he scanned the field, he was given what appeared to be a devastating shot from linebacker Kwon Alexander — though McCown said it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

He was visibly angry on the sideline after the hit, and that anger carried through as Pettine decided to give him one more series in the third quarter. Pettine said that TD drive was important for the starting offense, and it was. Had McCown’s last play been the hit by Alexander, he would have ended the half with five drives that lasted 17 plays and netted four yards.

The second-half drive changed the narrative, though, as McCown finished with 117 yards passing, two touchdowns, one field goal and a rating of 113.9.

“For the most part, when you go out in a little over a half and put up 17 points on offense, you feel good about it," McCown said.

McCown will not play in the preseason finale in Chicago, so the veteran finishes preseason with a passing line of 29-of-39 for 207 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He heads to the Sept. 13 opener in New York against the Jets as the unquestioned starter.

This game ball in the Cleveland Browns' victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers goes to Josh McCown. The Browns quarterback was irate at himself for taking a shot while scrambling late in the first half. He unexpectedly started the third quarter and guided a 78-yard drive that ended with his second touchdown pass of the night.

McCown has been steady and secure all camp, shrugging off the Johnny Manziel discussion and playing well. Against the Bucs, McCown had seven drives. Those resulted in two touchdowns, one field goal and a 113.9 rating. His two touchdown drives were for 80 and 78 yards, and went 16 and 11 plays.

Browns coach Mike Pettine said McCown will not play Thursday in the preseason finale in Chicago; McCown clearly ended his preseason on a positive note.


A few thoughts on the Cleveland Browns 31-7 win over the Tampa Bay Bucs Saturday night in Tampa:

What it means: With all quarterback discussion silenced due to Johnny Manziel’s elbow issue, the Browns simply needed good things to happen in this game. They did, starting with a punt return for a touchdown by Travis Benjamin and continuing with an 80-yard drive that ended with a lovely TD catch by Brian Hartline. An interception by rookie corner Charles Gaines led to a field goal. The offense struggled the rest of the first half, but Josh McCown guided another long TD drive to start the second half. The offense and McCown left with much to smile about.

Play of the game: Benjamin continued his outstanding training camp and preseason by returning the first punt of the game 53 yards for a touchdown. Benjamin struggled in that role last season, as the ACL surgery that ended his 2012 season affected him. On this return, he was decisive and quick. Benjamin has been one of the team’s better performers since training camp started.

Stat of note: 16 and 11. Those were the number of plays in McCown’s two touchdown drives, which went 80 and 78 yards. McCown had some dud possessions, but after he took a serious shot while scrambling at the end of the first half, he played the first drive of the third quarter and guided a beauty, ending with a touchdown pass to Gary Barnidge.

Injuries of note: The Browns waited three games to see running back Duke Johnson on the field, and he didn’t even last one half. Johnson took a serious shot from safety Mike Jenkins when McCown found him late on a route in the first quarter. Pierre Desir was blindsided on a block. Both were diagnosed with concussions, and both will enter the NFL concussion protocols and be out until they are cleared. In the second half, rookie corner Charles Gaines left the game with a hamstring injury. Gaines had taken advantage of the fact that K’Waun Williams and Justin Gilbert didn’t play. Gaines had an interception and broke up a couple passes before being sidelined.

What’s next: The Browns conclude the preseason with a game in Chicago on Thursday night against the Bears.

Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine volunteered the information last week that Johnny Manziel has managed elbow soreness and pain going back to high school.

Though that information raised eyebrows, Pettine mentioned it as a positive -- he said it showed that Manziel had dealt with the issue in the past, so he could deal with it in the future.

Pettine was also asked if the Browns knew about the elbow issue before the draft.

"I am sure there was something in the medical reports about it," Pettine said, "but it had been managed. I think it just got to the point where it flared up."

Team medical reports often include details not available to the general public or media.

But with the number of analysts looking into the draft, it would seem that one of them might have come across this information, given its potential significance.

In an appearance on Dari & Mel on ESPN Radio today, I was asked about Manziel and mentioned that I would be interested in hearing what ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. had to say about the elbow issue going back to high school.

Kiper Jr. said Manziel was fully examined, poked and prodded before the draft, and nothing surfaced about the elbow.

That answer is consistent with the pre-draft scouting reports. There is no mention of an elbow issue from Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com, Mike Mayock of the NFL Network or Todd McShay of ESPN.

All gave Manziel plenty of positives, but also expressed concerns about his throwing mechanics. None said a thing about the elbow.

As for the mechanics, most analysis dealt with Manziel not using his legs and body in throws, something that can put strain on the arm.

Brugler attributed what he called inconsistent "ball placement" by Manziel to "an inconsistent base and streaky overall passing mechanics, something that shows frequently on tape."

"Manziel will ignore fundamentals and rely on snap throws," Brugler added.

Mayock pointed out that Manziel’s "footwork and set-up will require refinement."

ESPN’s McShay wrote that Manziel got in trouble when he didn’t transfer his weight, a lack of mechanics that puts stress on the arm. The Browns have not hidden that Manziel’s occasional tendency to throw three-quarters also can stress his arm, but the team said changing his motion at this point would be difficult. They would stress proper mechanics to relieve that stress.

Quarterbacks coach Kevin O’Connell said the team has stressed to all the quarterbacks to use their legs and core in their throw, not just their arms.

"We talk a lot about their footwork and their base being the foundation for what they do and really using their legs to make throws, and letting their legs help them decide if a guy is open or not," O’Connell said.

Manziel will not play in the final two preseason games, including tonight in Tampa Bay, but the Browns continue to hope and plan that Manziel will be able to throw next week and be ready for the season opener.

But there was no information readily available to the public from before the 2014 draft that suggested Manziel had elbow issues.

SPONSORED HEADLINES