BEREA, Ohio (AP) — The Browns have very high expectations for tight end David Njoku. It’s easy to understand why.
The first-round pick from the University of Miami stands 6-foot-4 and is a chiseled 246 pounds, casting an imposing shadow at each training camp practice.
“David is an extraordinary athlete,” Cleveland tight ends coach Greg Seamon said Thursday. “He is a big, strong guy and a very bright young man. David is in the rookie mode and he is progressing well.
“Certainly, there are a lot of things to grow on and a lot of things to clean up, but we’re very happy with the way he works and the progress that he is making.”
Njoku’s raw athleticism prompted Cleveland to trade up to take him with the No. 29 overall selection, then cut Pro Bowl tight end Gary Barnidge — and his 134 receptions over the last two seasons — one day later.
It was a gamble by Browns football operations director Sashi Brown, exchanging a proven commodity for a 21-year-old who started nine college games, but one the franchise felt was worth taking after a 1-15 season.
“Obviously, it puts a lot more pressure on us without Gary here,” acknowledged Njoku, who caught 64 passes for 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns in two years with the Hurricanes. “In the tight end room, we all have to step up and play that much harder, whether that’s in practice or in games to fill that spot that Gary left.”
While Njoku’s leaping ability has wowed fans at the first seven camp practices, his hands have elicited an opposite reaction. Often during the same afternoon session.
Dropped passes and fumbles have overshadowed his highlight-worthy catches in the end zone, as coach Hue Jackson unhappily noted.
“David has to make those plays, and he can,” Jackson said. “He demonstrates that he can. He just has to do it all of the time.”
Njoku (nuh-joe-koo), who left practice early on Thursday with a sore back, willingly acknowledges that he must be better by the start of the regular season. The 2014 national high school high jump champion added that he isn’t overwhelmed by the Browns’ playbook or his projected role as a starter.
“They took me in the first round for a reason, to make plays, so I’ve got to work that much harder,” said Njoku, whose family emigrated from Nigeria. “You have days where it’s just a lack of focus or whatever it is, but you have to bounce back as fast as possible.”
Seamon is confident that his pupil will do that, citing Njoku’s status as the youngest player on the roster as another reason to be excited about his potential.
“He is frustrated that he’s dropped a couple of balls, but he has made some spectacular catches, as well,” Seamon said. “Every young player goes through a little bit of that. You want to be precise in your routes and you want to be where you are supposed to be. As it becomes more natural, he will relax and will make plays.”
Ten-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas raved about the skills of defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick out of Texas A&M, after matching up with him for the first time. “His speed off the ball, his speed on the edge, quickness and change of direction, and his size; those are the things you can’t teach,” Thomas said. “I can easily see why they made him the No. 1 pick.” … Garrett and rookie tackle Rod Johnson scuffled after a play, resulting in Johnson being taken to the ground after having his facemask yanked. … Add first-string linebacker Tank Carder to the list of players who are enjoying playing for new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. “I love the way it’s going because he makes everyone accountable,” said Carder, who has been with the Browns since 2012. “In the past, we talked about accountability, but it wasn’t really applied.”