July 24, 2014

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Browns notes: Kickers dueling, but preseason games will likely decide winner

CLEVELAND — The kicker competition has been under way for a while, but won’t really get started until later in the week — the preseason begins Thursday when the Rams visit FirstEnergy Stadium.
Veteran Shayne Graham and rookie Brandon Bogotay are battling for the spot vacated when Phil Dawson left in free agency after 14 years. Coach Rob Chudzinski has tried to make practice as intense as possible, but it can’t compare to a game situation.
“I think games are going to be really important for the kickers ’cause it’s like you have to watch them with people around and in situations,” general manager Michael Lombardi said. “You can simulate that. I think Coach Chud’s done a good job of trying to do that. But I think ultimately with people in the stands I think it’s important to watch them.”
Family Night on Saturday was far from true game conditions, but there were 24,131 fans in the stands and Lombardi, Chudzinski and CEO Joe Banner stood behind the candidates as they kicked to open practice.
Bogotay kicked into the west end zone and went 6-for-6. He was good from 28, 33, 41, 46, 49 and 53 yards.
Graham was 5-for-6 from the same distance into the Dawg Pound. His miss was way wide left from 53.
“We’re trying to put them in those situations to put that pressure on them,” Chudzinski said.
Family Night also provided Graham and Bogotay the chance to kick along the lakefront, although they’ve been down here before with special teams coordinator Chris Tabor.
“Every chance that we had Chris has gone down to the stadium and kicked with those guys,” Chudzinski said.
Chudzinski said it’s a tight competition, but shot down the idea of keeping a kickoff specialist along with the place-kicker.
“We’re really looking for one kicker,” he said. “I am not saying that there is no way we would keep two. Obviously, one is ideal.”
A veteran cut from another camp – possibly Miami’s Dan Carpenter – could be signed late in the preseason if the Browns aren’t pleased with their current options.
Chudzinski and Tabor have tried to turn up the heat at practice as much as they can. Before practice, Graham and Bogotay take turns kicking at the same goalpost from opposite directions. To increase the intensity, the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” plays from the loudspeakers.
“It’s kind of a dueling-kickers situation,” Graham said. “It’s a very interesting thing and I like it. That keeps every kick like a game situation. You know everyone’s watching, fans cheering back and forth, guys on your side of the field cheering for you.”

T-RICH BACK MONDAY
As expected, running back Trent Richardson didn’t practice. He was kicked in his right shin Thursday and given the weekend off.
On Friday, Richardson said he’s fine and plans to play in the preseason opener. Chudzinski said he hasn’t decided if Richardson will play vs. the Rams.
“We’re going to work him back into practice on Monday and we’ll go from there,” Chudzinski said.
** Safety T.J. Ward (hamstring), running back Montario Hardesty (hamstring), receiver David Nelson (knee), tight end Brad Smelley (hamstring), cornerback Trevin Wade (tightness), rookie safety Jamoris Slaughter (hamstring), offensive lineman Ryan Miller (concussion), offensive lineman Oniel Cousins (ankle) and offensive lineman Chris Faulk (knee) remained out.

CROWN RULE
NFL owners voted in a new rule in March prohibiting a runner or tackler from initiating contact by delivering a blow with the top of his helmet outside the tackle box. The punishment is a 15-yard penalty and possible fine.
The league showed video of Richardson crushing Eagles safety Kurt Coleman in the 2012 opener as an example of what would be penalized.
Referee Ed Hochuli, in camp with the Browns for a couple of days, said he thinks the adjustment will be smooth from an officiating standpoint.
“We haven’t seen it yet, so we’ll have to see how it goes, but I don’t think it’ll be that difficult because the rule is really very specific about what’s got to happen,” Hochuli said Saturday. “First of all, it’s got to be clearly outside the tackles. So when a running back lowers his head in a short-yardage situation or at the goal line, that’s not covered by the rule. [The runner must be] clearly outside the tackles, basically in the open field. So first of all, we’ll see it because it’s out in the open field.
“And secondly, one of the requirements is that the running back actually line up the defender, so instead of trying to avoid the defender like they normally do, he would have to line up the defender, and then he’s got to lower his head and he’s got to hit with the very top of the helmet, not the forehead, not the face. And so that kind of jumps out at you when that happens. So I don’t think it’s going to be real difficult.”

NOT SUBJECT TO REVIEW
With the emphasis on preventing concussions, the league has made eliminating vicious hits to the head a priority. Officials have been told: When in doubt, throw a flag for unnecessary roughness.
That philosophy has increased the number of 15-yard penalties, which can change the outcome of the game. Hochuli is aware of the role the calls can play – and that they’re sometimes missed — but doesn’t think subjecting them to replay review is the answer.
“That rule’s been in effect for a while, so we’re getting better and better and better at calling it,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that we’re always right. But it is becoming more of a routine call.
“The trouble with making that a reviewable call for replay is there’s still a certain amount of judgment involved and replay is designed to fix things in which there is no judgment. It’s clear — he stepped out of bounds or he did not step out of bounds. There is some judgment involved in (hits to the helmet), so I kind of doubt that replay will go there in the near future.”

ROSTER MOVE
The Browns re-signed offensive lineman Dominic Alford and waived linebacker Adrian Moten. Alford was waived July 24.
Alford (6-foot-3, 320 pounds) was originally signed by the Browns as an undrafted free agent in 2011 and spent the season on the practice squad.

EXTRA POINTS
Running back Brandon Jackson got the best of linebacker James-Michael Johnson on a pass-blocking drill, knocking him into the buckets that represent offensive linemen. Johnson got revenge later in the drill by beating Jackson to the quarterback.
** Jackson, who’s had a quiet camp, had a long gainer in an inside-run drill with the help of a block by guard Jason Pinkston.
** John Greco at left guard and Shawn Lauvao at right guard were back as the starting tandem.
** Fullback Owen Marecic finally got some work with the first team in running formations.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.