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AFC North camp preview: Browns want to get McCown back on track

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BEREA, Ohio — Quarterback once again will be a focus for the Cleveland Browns in training camp; but, instead of searching for a starter, August will be dedicated to putting the designated starter back on the right track.

Josh McCown was 3-2 as a starter with the Chicago Bears in 2013. He threw 13 touchdown passes and one interception.

Then came the disaster of 2014. McCown was 1-10 as a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while throwing 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

McCown will have to show his new teammates he can play like he did two years ago. The good news is he left his coaches with a good impression through OTAs and minicamp.

“To be honest, I did not know very much about (McCown), but researched him heading into free agency,” coach Mike Pettine said recently. “Then (I) talked to a lot of people that had worked with him or knew him. Then just the experience when he was in here, you could tell this guy loves football. He’s all about team.

“All he wants to do is win; (he’s) ultra-competitive. He’s been rock solid in the meetings, very on point with his preparation. We didn’t bring him here to be a mentor, but that’s just who he is. He doesn’t know any different. He’s been as advertised.”

McCown had Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson among his wide receivers last year. The Browns do not have players of their caliber, but they have a better offensive line than the one McCown played behind last year and the Browns are deep at running back with Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell and rookie Duke Johnson.

“I think he sees that as potentially a way to win football games,” Pettine said. “I think virtually any quarterback in the league, if we said, ‘Hey, we want to get you in second-and-5 and not second-and-11. We want to get you in third-and-2 and not third-and-8,’ I think they’d all be appreciative of that.”

If the Browns are going to surprise teams this season, they will have to stick to a strong ground game. They scored 14 rushing touchdowns and were 7-4 after 11 games in 2014. They scored only three touchdowns on the ground during a five-game skid to end the season, and one of those was on a 10-yard scramble by Johnny Manziel.

The coaches are confident the run defense will improve over last year, when it ranked dead last, because of the addition of nose tackle Danny Shelton, the first-round draft pick from Washington, and the healthy return of Phil Taylor from a knee injury. Nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin was lost in free agency, but Shelton should be an upgrade at that position.

The Browns are still waiting for outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo to produce. He is coming off shoulder surgery and will be challenged by rookie Nate Orchard.

“When we came out of training camp last year, we thought Mingo was one of our best outside ‘backers,” defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said. “We all know about the injury he suffered in Play 2 of the season. He’s going to have to compete for playing time on early downs. He’s going to have a role in our sub packages. No one is guaranteed anything on the defense.”

Mingo totaled three sacks in the first three games and four sacks in his next 27 games.

CAMP CALENDAR

July 22: Rookies reported

July 29: Veterans report

July 30: First practice

Aug. 17-18: Join practice with the Buffalo Bills, St. John Fisher College, Rochester, N.Y.

Aug. 25: Training camp ends

–Team strength: Secondary.

The secondary is solid and deep despite losing cornerback Buster Skrine to the New York Jets in free agency. Joe Haden is a two-time Pro Bowl player, and safeties Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson were selected to the Pro Bowl last year. The Browns expect second-year cornerback Justin Gilbert to make a big leap. K’Waun Williams excels as a nickel back. Tramon Williams can start at right corner if Gilbert falters.

–Breakout player: Linebacker Scott Solomon.

Solomon made just seven tackles after being promoted from the practice squad late in 2014, but he has the potential to earn plenty of playing time this season backing up Paul Kruger as the strong-side linebacker. He is a solid tackler and quick to the ball. Solomon was with the Tennessee Titans, New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers before being signed to the Browns’ practice squad on Nov. 18. He says the Browns defensive scheme is a good fit for him.

–Work in progress: Quarterback.

Whether it’s Josh McCown or Johnny Manziel, the Browns have work to do at this position. They are hoping to get the McCown who was 3-2 with the Chicago Bears in 2013, when he threw 13 touchdown passes and one interception, and not the guy who was 1-10 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while throwing 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last season. Manziel is not expected to start; but, if McCown falters and Manziel shows maturity and ability, it could happen.


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