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Browns open camp looking for better passing

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BEREA, Ohio — For a team coming off its seventh consecutive losing season, the Cleveland Browns face a surprisingly low number of questions in training camp, but two of them are critical to any success they might have this season.

Coach Mike Pettine is looking for a kicker, and he is trying to pump touchdowns into an anemic pass offense. Pettine met with reporters Wednesday before the first practice of training camp Thursday.

Carey Spear and Travis Coons will battle for the kicking job.

Veterans Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline, rookie Vince Mayle and Terrelle Pryor are new receivers with the Browns. Pryor is trying to convert from quarterback.

Returning wide receivers Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel and Travis Benjamin combined for 117 catches and three touchdowns for the Browns in 2014.

Cleveland caught 12 touchdown passes in 2014 — the fewest in the NFL. The league average was 25.2.

“We have two young kickers that really haven’t been tested in the pressure cooker of the NFL,” Pettine said. “The questions are at receiver just because there are so many new faces. You bring in a Bowe and a Hartline and you have Gabe, Hawk and Benjamin all coming off years when they were productive for us.

“The draft pick, Vince, missed a lot of spring because of his thumb (injury). Now you throw Pryor into the mix, I think that’s a group that there are a lot of questions to be answered.”

The lack of production last year and the uncertainty at quarterback with Josh McCown have most national observers picking the Browns for last in the AFC North. Pettine plans to use the lack of respect as motivation.

“Think of us that way — go ahead,” Pettine said. “We’re a fourth-place team, and you look at the Browns on the schedule and, ‘Hey, I can go ahead and put a W right next to it.’ To me, that only works in our favor.”

Pettine smiled when he said one preview magazine he read picked the Browns to finish fifth in the four-team division.

The Browns’ 7-9 record last year was their best since 2007. They finished behind Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati each of the last four years. They were third in the division at 5-11 in 2010 but last in 2009 and 2008.

“We use it, but to me that also speaks to the quality of the division we’re in,” Pettine said. “The Steelers have made some changes and are explosive on offense. They’re young on defense. Baltimore — it would be hard to place them lower than first or second given their continuity and how consistent they’ve been. And Cincinnati — they’re all coming off playoff seasons. How do you put us anywhere but there?”

Pettine believes the Browns’ addition of rookie guard Cameron Erving makes the team better on the offensive line. Pettine expects a big season at inside linebacker from Karlos Dansby, Craig Robertson and Chris Kirksey, and he is confident the secondary will be one of the best in the league.

Pettine will not declare McCown the starter for the season opener against the New York Jets. He said he wouldn’t name his starter until the third preseason game.

“I wouldn’t rule out (Johnny Manziel winning the job), but if I had to say will Josh McCown likely be our Day One starter, to answer that question, I would say he would likely be, but I don’t want to say he is,” Pettine said. “I don’t want to guarantee it.”

Manziel completed only 18 of the 35 passes he threw in the regular season last season.

“To play quarterback in the NFL, you have to be accurate,” Pettine said. “That’s something that we want to increase with all of our quarterbacks.”


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