BEREA — Receiver Cedric Tillman was the Browns’ first pick of the 2023 draft, taken at No. 74 in the third round. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson was his high school teammate at Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas but didn’t see the NFL in his friend’s future.
“He’s probably going to hate me for this story, but not at all actually,” Thompson-Robinson said Friday before the first practice of rookie minicamp. “I started over him in high school as X receiver. So Cedric we would say was a little bit of a late bloomer, but once he got to Tennessee, he took off from a growth spurt to the speed to just everything you could ask for as a receiver.
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“And you guys have obviously seen what he is now and he’s gotten picked because of it. But starting out, though, I definitely thought I was better than him at receiver.”
Thompson-Robinson moved to starting quarterback for his senior year — he had been behind Tate Martell, who went to Ohio State — allowing Tillman to move up the depth chart. They won state championships all four years.
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Tillman then starred at the University of Tennessee, catching 109 passes for 1,622 yards and 17 touchdowns. Thompson-Robinson was a five-year starter at UCLA, throwing for 10,710 yards and 88 TDs and rushing for 1,827 yards and 28 TDs.
They’re loving the reunion in Cleveland.
“It’s been super cool ever since we both got the call,” Thompson-Robinson said. “We’ve been throwing every day, trying to break down this playbook and learn it as best we can together and really just going through this whole process together.”
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“It’s still crazy that we’re both here,” Tillman said. “This is not our first rodeo. We played together four years in high school. So just having that relationship with him is cool.”
#Browns rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson on being reunited with high school teammate WR Cedric Tillman. pic.twitter.com/AzltGqkxto
— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) May 12, 2023
Thompson-Robinson is the only quarterback at rookie camp and made many of his throws to Tillman.
“That’s such a cool story and a cool thing, to be able to bring your high school buddy with you to work every day,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “Those two are inseparable in the building, so far. They’re kind of walking around together, and I think it helps. It helps that they play a position where they’re talking to each other quite a bit, so they can study together, those type of things.”
#Browns WR Cedric Tillman at rookie minicamp. pic.twitter.com/kSS9cG1J9B
— Scott Petrak ct (@ScottPetrak) May 12, 2023
Quarterback Deshaun Watson plans to take several offensive players to Puerto Rico next week for training and bonding. He did the same last year, earning rave reviews for a trip to the Bahamas.
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The players will miss part of the team’s voluntary offseason program, but organized team activities don’t start until the following week. Next week’s practices are limited to individual and group drills without contact or the offense going against the defense.
Stefanski said Watson talked to him about the trip.
“He did, but as you know, voluntary program,” Stefanski said. “I’m very appreciative of the guys that are here and working here. When the guys decide that they want to get together and be a team, I’m very, very much in favor of that.”
Stefanski was coy when asked if he’d provide a script of plays to practice.
“I don’t know if we’re allowed to,” he said. “So if we’re not allowed to, no. If we’re allowed to, yes.”
Stefanski has embraced the schedule, which has the Browns facing all three AFC North rivals within the first four weeks.
“It’s great,” he said. “You don’t control the schedule. You’re ready to play wherever they tell you to play.
“It’s a unique thing to have the three division opponents in the first four weeks. I believe we’re the only team that has that in the NFL, and I look at it as a great opportunity.”
The division games add importance to the start of the season, but Stefanski wasn’t ready to say if he’ll alter anything in training camp or the preseason.
“We’ll get there,” he said. “I do think the one unique part there is having coordinators that you’ve gone against. They’ve gone against us. We’ve gone against them quite a bit over the last few years.”
The Browns changed defensive coordinators in the offseason, adding Jim Schwartz. The other significant change in the division was the Ravens hiring Todd Monken as offensive coordinator.
** The Browns play at Denver and at the Los Angeles Rams consecutive weeks, Nov. 26 and Dec. 3, and Stefanski wants to spend the week between in Los Angeles.
“Eliminating a trip, from a rest and recovery standpoint, and then it’s never a bad thing when you can get your team together in a setting,” he said.