Several fights broke out during Tuesday's practice at Browns training camp.
BEREA, Ohio -- Intensity was at a fever pitch during Tuesday's training-camp practice for the Cleveland Browns, and on multiple occasions, that energy turned into fights involving several players.
According to first-year coach Mike Pettine, there are good and bad sides to the combative tone players have taken during parts of each of the four practices in training camp.
"When we talk about the kind of team we want to be, you have to practice that way, and that's hard and that's difficult," Pettine said. "I can't tell that lie that we can be a certain way on the practice field and then, carry it over on the game field. There's going to be times where it does boil over.
"You don't want one side of the ball to get bullied by the other. There has to be some push back. Whether it's O vs. D or D vs. O, and you look at that, and it's the price of doing business. You don't like to see it. You're afraid somebody potentially gets hurt in it. It breaks up the rhythm of practice, but at times, that's going to happen.
"You hate to see it, but it's also teammates defending teammates. You go with unit pride first, and then, it goes to your side of the ball. Then, it goes to the whole team. When they see a guy that's involved in something, they want to go help him out. I like the fact that everybody jumped in, but that can't be a habit that just carries over to game day. We're not going to be clearing benches."
One of the incidents that resulted in a fight happened when the Browns' defense attempted to strip the ball from running back Ben Tate. Tate took exception to the constant effort to create a fumble, as well as the tackling of teammate Dion Lewis, and fired the ball into the facemask of defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin. That led to a scrum involving nearly a quarter of the roster.
"You look at the statistics of the league, what's the biggest indicator of wins and losses, it's the turnover ratio, and we want to be one of those teams that takes the ball away and doesn't allow teams to take it away from us," Pettine said.
"As frustrating as it is for our running backs, I think it's great practice for them to constantly have guys pulling and hacking at it. It's good for our guys defensively too. It's a habit, like anything else. You practice it, and hopefully, it will carry over to Sunday."
Although the players involved allowed their tempers to boil over in Tuesday's practice, the Browns' last on-field work until Thursday morning, they view a fight as a positive thing.
"Sometimes, it's good to have those fights and those little altercations out there," wide receiver Anthony Armstrong said. "Now, you don't want anybody to get hurt, of course, but when you know that you're working hard, and if somebody's getting driven back 10 yards, they're going to be upset. You shouldn't sit there and accept that. On offense, if you're getting beat, you shouldn't accept somebody doing that to you, so everybody is fighting and they're scratching and clawing.
"It can rally you. I think at that point it was kind of dull. It was kind of dragging. I know (receiver) Nate (Burleson) made a big block on a safety, so that kind of got us going. Then, you have a little fisticuffs going on out there, and that gets everybody going, too. It just picks up that intensity. It's not a bad thing."
Both Rubin and Tate spoke after practice, and said the issues on the field were resolved before the team got back to the locker room for meetings.
"It's in the moment," Tate said. "I threw the ball at Rube after it was over. After the period was over, I went right up to him and gave him a hug and shook his hand. We're all teammates here. At the end of the day, we all got the same mission, so it's okay for it to go down just don't carry it over into the locker room. After it's over with, it should be done with."
During the final 11-on-11 drills of Tuesday's practice, both Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel threw interceptions that ended the offense's bid to move the ball 20 yards against the defense, but until analyzing the tape, Pettine has learned to avoid the "knee-jerk" reactions.
"I don't react to that because I want to know the why," Pettine said. "Was it the DB just made a heck of a play, or was it a misread by the quarterback? Was it a bad throw? Was it a missed route by a receiver that was maybe supposed to be flattened out that wasn't? There's reasons for it. I don't want to react too much to the content of the plays until I get a chance to study it on tape."
CENTER OF ATTENTION
Center Alex Mack meant so much to the Browns that when Pettine and his new staff were in place, many of the offensive coaches took a cross-country flight to California to "recruit" him to return to Cleveland despite being a free agent.
Eventually, Mack signed an offer sheet with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Browns took less than two hours to match the offer and bring the two-time Pro Bowl center back to Cleveland for at least the next two seasons.
"I think his skill set is built for this scheme," Pettine said. "I think he can play. He's a good enough talent that I think he can play in any scheme, but I think his lateral quickness with still the ability to play with strength and maintain leverage is just built for this."
Despite missing the better part of the offseason because of an ankle injury, rookie offensive lineman Joel Bitonio has been running with the first-team offense throughout the first four days of training camp. With veteran guard John Greco currently out of the lineup, the Browns' newest blocker could be getting first-team repetitions for the foreseeable future.
"He is NFL ready," Pettine said. "We feel very confident, but with Greco being out, we could potentially see some rotations in that lineup there. It'll give (offensive line) Coach (Andy) Moeller a few more options, but we're very comfortable and very confident there with Joel at left guard."
Per the rules of the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFL Players' Association, the fifth day of training camp must be a day off for the players, and Pettine said Tuesday that day off cannot include any type of team activity.
"You can't have a curfew the night before, and then, they have to be in by 10:30 the following night," Pettine said. "We'll have some off days that have meetings later in the day, like after games, but they don't count in the league's eyes as far as a true day off."