Duke Johnson says Browns are a solid team on paper

Energy, optimism, talent upgrades visible on day 1 of minicamp

Daryl Ruiter
June 12, 2018 - 6:47 pm
Cleveland Browns running back Duke Johnson Jr., (29) catches a pass during organized team activities at the Cleveland Browns training facility.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

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Berea, OH (92.3 The Fan) – Since the Browns drafted Duke Johnson in 2015 he’s seen the bad and the ugly with not much good.

But the times, they are a changin’ according to Johnson.

“I talk to my family, my brothers, all the time about it, on paper we have a solid team, a very good team on paper, but, again, we have to come out and perform,” Johnson said Tuesday as the team opened their veteran minicamp. “Everyone has to be on the same page, everyone has to know what we're doing game in and game out, we just have to prepare like we want to win.”

Johnson was the last major piece of business that needed taken care of by the Browns before the season, and head coach Hue Jackson is glad it’s now out of the way.

“I think Duke is just a playmaker,” Jackson said. “I think he can run with the ball and obviously we have two other very capable runners. Obviously, his trade has been catching it, he's caught it as well as anybody, so he gives you that versatility to where you can put Duke a lot of different places and I think he likes that.

“I think he relishes that opportunity to be all over the field and create mismatches and those things. I think Todd will come up with a great plan for him and the offensive staff will put him in a position to make plays.”

Sure, it’s June where optimism reigns supreme and Johnson has $15.6 million or $7.7 million guaranteed reasons to buy in on the Browns’ build but watch practice for 15 minutes and it’s hard not to notice the upgrade in talent – everywhere.

“We definitely have talent,” right guard Kevin Zeitler said. “It is all about execution now. "It is all about can we get through training camp and then flip the switch.”

First the quarterbacks – Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield and Drew Stanton – all throw much better footballs than last year’s cast.

“I think the biggest thing, for me, is [Taylor’s] anticipation,” Johnson said. “The way that he throws the ball before the receiver's out of their break. The way he knows what a defense is, how much time he has in the pocket, all those things that come with being a veteran quarterback in this league.”

It also helps that when the balls are thrown – and on target – the receivers are actually catching them, with the occasional drop or pass break up by the defense. It is no longer raining footballs off a bunch of guys with hands of stone.

Jarvis Landry’s hands are like magnets, Josh Gordon is a physical specimen with arms and legs that would make any workout warrior jealous – and Jackson said he’s lost weight too. The two could provide quite the 1-2 punch on Sundays in the fall.

“It does make a huge difference, as far as competition level within the same group of guys, making sure we are stepping up every rep and every play,” Gordon said about the addition of Landry. “We want to be out there at the same time. Instinctively, I think we are just competitive by nature, which is what makes it better for me—I think it does the same for him. His football IQ, his awareness to the game, him knowing where he is supposed to be at—it is just a benefit to not only me, but the entire offense.”

Mix in Johnson and fellow running backs Carlos Hyde and rookie Nick Chubb for new offensive coordinator Todd Haley to play with, and well, are you getting excited yet?

You should be. Seriously.

Jackson is too, but he is trying to temper his enthusiasm because he knows what’s next.

“We still have to play the game,” Jackson said. “We still have got a lot of work to do. It is just fun to be around the guys and to watch them run around and work—watch things start to happen the way that they should offensively, defensively and with special teams. Again, I think that I have a really good staff. There are some good players out there and I think that they are working hard.”

Defensively, they seem to finally be matching the same energy that emanates from defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' mouth. 

Emmanuel Ogbah, who has recovered from a broken foot that ended his 2017 season, was seen for the first time by reporters in a full practice, and boy No. 90 was hard to miss during 11-on-11 Tuesday. Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward too. Jabrill Peppers and Derrick Kindred are competing at strong safety and the 2 alternated between the first and second units Tuesday, which is what Jackson wants – competition.

“There is competition throughout our football team and guys are going to have to earn what they get once we get to training camp,” Jackson said. “But it is a good problem to have.”

It’s one the Browns haven’t had in a long time.