BEREA — As receiver Damion Ratley sat with a hamstring injury for nearly three weeks of training camp, his competition staked claim to the roster spot he’s trying to win.
Jaelen Strong, D.J. Montgomery and Derrick Willies opened eyes with their performances and took turns with the first-team offense. They are battling with Ratley for two or three spots in a crowded receiver room.
Ratley said he was anxious to return but insisted watching his competition succeed wasn’t a nervous time for him.
“I love when they make plays,” Ratley said Monday after practice. “When they make plays, it fires me up, it made me come back faster, made me get in the training room harder. Them making plays made me want to be out there with them.
“I love those guys. We’re a close group.”
Ratley (6-foot-2, 200 pounds) missed all but the first day of camp until returning to individual drills last week in Indianapolis. He was back in team drills Monday and worked in with the starters as the coaches try to expedite the evaluation process.
“It was good to get back out there,” he said. “Still got to catch the ball no matter if it’s ones or twos. Just go out there and do what you do.”
Ratley, a sixth-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2018, knows exactly what he needs to do to make the team.
“I’ve got to do what I do best and that’s catch the ball, make a lot of catches, make a lot of plays on special teams, be great at the position,” he said.
Coach Freddie Kitchens said Ratley has the tools to stick.
“I like his range and his length. I like his speed. He has deceptive top speed,” he said. “I just need to see consistency. I need balls caught that are put on him. I need him to make catches that are contested catches.”
Ratley has two weeks and two preseason games left until cuts. The time to impress has been condensed, but he’s not dwelling on that.
“If I thought about the window being smaller, that would be my only mindset, be like, ‘got to do this, got to do that,’” he said. “Nah, I don’t think like that. I think like I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to make this squad.”
A question about Baker Mayfield got an interesting answer from Ratley — about veteran backup quarterback Drew Stanton.
“Drew is a really smart guy. I don’t think you understand how smart Drew really is,” Ratley said in explaining that Mayfield is smarter in Year 2. “Like Drew will tell you something that’s going to work and that thing works. So Bake literally learns from him.
“Drew is smart as can get. Probably the smartest football player I’ve ever been around, and Bake’s going to be dangerous because all Bake’s doing is feeding off Drew.”
Kitchens coached Stanton with the Cardinals and is a big fan.
“Drew is very valuable to the quarterback room, which is the most important room in the building to have continuity in there and to have the ability for everybody in there to check their egos at the door and to get the starter ready to play,” Kitchens said. “It is good to have a young guy like Baker to have somebody like that in the mix, especially with someone who has been with me for so long.”
Tight end David Njoku returned to practice after missing last week with a knee injury. He was limited to individual drills, which he went through without a helmet.
“We are trying to build toughness, man. I am just kidding,” Ktichens said. “He has a cut on the back of his head and the stitches would come out. It is nothing major.”
Kitchens said Njoku’s knee feels “really good.”
** Cornerback Denzel Ward (undisclosed injury) returned to team drills after sitting them out last week vs. the Colts.
** Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (hip) was once again held out of team drills. He did individuals.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) August 19, 2019
** Defensive end Myles Garrett participated in individual drills after not playing Saturday. Kitchens said he suffered a minor injury at the end of practice Thursday.
** Tight end Seth DeValve (concussion), defensive end Chad Thomas (neck) and cornerback Tavierre Thomas (hamstring) returned to practice.
** Receiver Antonio Callaway (ankle) was out of a walking boot and worked on the side along with cornerback TJ Carrie (hamstring), linebacker Sione Takitaki (hamstring), safeties Jermaine Whitehead (groin) and Juston Burris (hamstring) and running back Dontrell Hilliard (hamstring).
** Offensive lineman Kyle Kalis, defensive tackle Brian Price and receiver Ishmael Hyman remain out with concussions.
** Montgomery was excused for a personal reason.
The third preseason game is traditionally the one in which the starters play the most, usually at least a half. Kitchens has been cautious with his best players through the first two games and didn’t commit to changing for the “dress rehearsal” Friday night at Tampa Bay.
“I do not think it is necessary that you have to play guys a certain amount,” he said. “I just think that is what everybody else did, and people like to just maybe not go off of what they feel and think and go off of what everybody else does.”
With stars resting across the NFL, questions are growing louder over whether the preseason schedule should continue to be four games.
“That is over my pay scale,” Kitchens said. “It does not matter to me. My job is to go with what we have, make the most of what we have.”
Free safety Damarious Randall can live without any of the preseason.
“I’m more of a practice guy. I really don’t like to show a lot of things up in the games,” he said. “I would cut preseason games if you asked me.”
Strong couldn’t hang on as he dived to make the catch in the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 5. The defense won the one-play competition period to end practice, and the offense had to do pushups.
** Kitchens would welcome UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic to practice. He won the belt back Saturday night.
“I would love to get him out here,” he said. “I did get a rundown of (the fight), and it seems like he really never gave up and just kept fighting. Sometimes the best ability is reliability, availability and dependability, and he is a great demonstration of that.”
** Backup tackle Kendall Lamm got some snaps as the first-team right guard.
** Randall’s hair is dyed blue because he lost a bet when his beloved Warriors lost to the Raptors in the NBA Finals.
** Much of practice was spent with the starters working against the scout team in preparation for the Buccaneers.