BEREA: Some coaches might turn the other cheek if they saw something they didn’t like from their players during the final practice of training camp, but Browns coach Mike Pettine wasn’t in the mood for nonsense on Saturday.
Right offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz shoved outside linebacker Justin Staples after a running play in an 11-on-11 session, setting off a sizable scuffle. About 30 players formed a scrum on the field, and grappling ensued. All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas was trapped on the ground beneath his teammates, and inside linebacker Craig Robertson emerged from the pile without a helmet.
Pettine immediately made all of the players line up pay penance with sprints.
“I just thought it went a little too far,” said Pettine, whose team will break camp Tuesday after it plays its second preseason game on the road Monday night at Washington. “[Fights are] going to happen sometimes. That’s the price of doing business, but I thought we got out of the realm of being good teammates. Also, I just think overall practice, to that point, I thought was a little too sloppy for my liking.
“It was kind of a culmination of the sloppiness and then the length of the fight. The thing I was pleased about was how they responded after [the sprints]. I thought they were sharp. They were focused. They practiced how they should, but I just told them after that we don’t need a traumatic event to kind of snap us back into place, that we need to be mature enough and professional enough to be able to handle tough circumstances and practice well.”
Pettine reprimanded Schwartz after the brouhaha.
“It’s my fault for starting the thing,” Schwartz said. “So [it's] something that I can’t do in the future.”
Schwartz realizes the risks involved in fighting teammates.
“I try to stay out of fights,” he said. “I think you only get injured from that, and it’s not really too productive in general.”
Cornerback Buster Skrine left Friday’s practice with an injured thumb and Pettine was still awaiting word Saturday on whether he’ll need surgery.
“I’m not sure how long he’ll be [out], but we think he should be available for the [Sept. 7 regular-season] opener,” Pettine said. “He injured his thumb, but we’re confident that he should be ready to go for Pittsburgh.”
The injury forced Skrine to end camp on a sour note after he excelled throughout the offseason and fulfilled a vow to do everything in his power to keep rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert, the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft, from running away with his starting job.
“I think if you were ranking guys at how good of a camp they’ve had, he’d be right up there at the top,” Pettine said of Skrine. “He goes out every day, competes, smile on his face, loves to play. He’s had his share of mistakes. [But] I think he’s a guy that’s improved. He loves to compete, and he doesn’t just want to hand the job over to Justin Gilbert. I don’t think you can have enough corners in today’s NFL, and Buster’s a guy that’s going to have an important role for us.”
With Skrine sidelined, Gilbert will start opposite Pro Bowler Joe Haden on Monday night at Washington.
“It’s like a dream come true playing next to a great guy like that,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert will make his NFL preseason debut. A groin injury kept him out of the exhibition opener.
“I’m pumped up,” he said. “I can’t wait to get out there on the field.”
But Gilbert is also bummed about Skrine’s situation.
“He was working his tail off,” Gilbert said. “And to see him go down like that, I’m just praying for a speedy recovery.”
Another potential surgery
Pettine revealed starting defensive end Desmond Bryant might need wrist surgery.
“At this point, that’s still a possibility,” Pettine said Saturday. On Friday, Pettine said Bryant was “waiting to get another opinion.”
Bryant has missed the past four practices with the injury.
“He has an issue with his wrist that he’s had some doctors look at,” Pettine said. “It’s something that’s been bothering him for a long time.”
All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon (abdominal) returned to practice Saturday and might play Monday night. He participated in some team drills.
“We’re hopeful,” Pettine said of Gordon’s availability at Washington. “We’ll see how he responded to the activity. I talked to him during practice. He said he was a little sore, but pushing through it.”
Meanwhile, the Browns are still waiting for a resolution on Gordon’s appeal of a drug suspension from the NFL. His appeal hearing ended Aug. 4.
“We respect that there’s a process. I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t frustrating. I think anybody would be frustrated because you just want to know,” Pettine said. “We have our plan set, but we’re just waiting, patiently waiting, some people maybe not so patiently. But it’s something that’s outside of our control.”
Change of heart?
Pettine had previously stated he planned to rest most of his starters in the fourth preseason game Aug. 28 against Chicago, but Saturday he sounded as if he had changed his mind.
“I don’t know if we’re in a position that we can rest our guys in the fourth game,” he said. “I think we need to play, so we’re going to take that mentality and just kind of see where we are from a health standpoint. I wouldn’t be surprised if our No. 1s play some in the fourth one.”
Asked if that would include the starting quarterback, Pettine said, “Yes.”
Mentor at work
When the Browns signed third-string quarterback Rex Grossman, some observers labeled him rookie Johnny Manziel’s mentor. But because Grossman has spent the past five seasons in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s system, he also has been able to immediately help veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer with the nuances of the scheme.
“For me, it’s another guy to lean on,” Hoyer said. “It’s always good to talk to a coach about it, but when you have a guy that’s actually played when live bullets are firing, it’s good to see his perspective on things.”
Hoyer conceded he was surprised the Browns didn’t sign Grossman in the spring.
“When I met him, I said, ‘I thought you’d be here a lot sooner,’” Hoyer said.
Instead the Browns experimented with veteran Tyler Thigpen first. They waived him when they signed Grossman.
Hoyer looks back at his days at Michigan State and his rookie season with the New England Patriots and can’t help but notice how much he has progressed since then.
“I look at my time in New England as learning football in light-years,” said Hoyer, who entered the NFL in 2009 as an undrafted free agent. “I think I learned more in my first year there than I ever learned in my entire career about the game of football – not just offense, quarterback play, but defenses, how to attack.
“I was undrafted, apparently, for a reason. I’m a much better pro player than I was in college. I think I can honestly say that. I can understand why people overlooked me.”
Putting on a show
Manziel revealed the rookies were slated to put on a show for the veterans Saturday after practice, but he wouldn’t unveil the specifics of his act.
“We have a rookie show today, so I’m sure it will get a little interesting,” Manziel said. “Me and [rookie quarterback] Connor Shaw have a little something planned, so it should be a good time, just go up there and try to make these guys laugh a little bit.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.