Browns tight end impressing at camp

CLEVELAND – At first glance, the catch was good enough to have been accomplished by a speedy receiver.

A one-handed grab along the right sideline on a pass thrown by backup quarterback Brian Hoyer. Good for about 30 yards. Not many tight ends would have made that grab.

But it was number 82 – tight end Gary Barnidge – who made the best play on day two of Browns’ minicamp Wednesday. It was one of the better grabs seen in any of the practices that have been open to the media.

The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Barnidge looked genuinely pleased when congratulated on the catch after practice. Kind of like a kid after hitting the winning home run in a Little League game.

“Thank you very much,” said a proud Barnidge, a fifth-round draft choice of the Carolina Panthers in 2008.

When Barnidge signed with the Browns last March, word was that he’s a good blocker and not much more. His career stats in four seasons (he missed 2011 with an ankle injury) would verify that scouting report – 18 receptions for 320 yards and one touchdown.

Barnidge has looked like anything but a blocking type in offseason drills. In fact, he’s displayed the best receiving skills of any of the tight ends.

Coach Rob Chudzinski apparently felt that Barnidge could bring more than a blocker’s body to the team. He should have known after spending the previous two seasons as the Panthers offensive coordinator.

“Gary is a guy that had some injuries earlier in his career,” Chudzinski said. “I think he’s a versatile guy that can do both (block and catch), and he’s getting better.”

Barnidge says he doesn’t pay attention to media scouting reports, but that doesn’t mean he’s not aware of what’s been said.

“I’ve heard everything,” Barnidge said. “My mom worries about all that stuff. I don’t care what anybody says. I’m going to show what I can do on the field because that’s all that matters. Nobody really sees anything besides what’s on the field.

“People label receiver. Some people label blocker. I want to be known as balanced. I want to be able to do both equally well.”

Barnidge couldn’t have picked a better situation in his first try at free agency. An argument could be made that tight end is the weakest position area on the roster. Ben Watson, the starter last season, is with the New Orleans Saints. Also gone from last season’s group is Alex Smith.

Jordan Cameron is among the returning tight ends, but he has just 26 receptions for 259 yards and one touchdown in two uneventful seasons. Others contending for playing time include free-agent arrival Kellen Davis and Dan Gronkowski.

“This is a great situation just because with Chud coming in I’m familiar with the system,” Barnidge said. “It was a great fit for me.”

Chudzinski has changed the offensive system from the west coast philosophy of previous coach Pat Shurmur to an Air Coryell vertical passing system. The west coast is known to be a friendly offense for tight ends, but today’s NFL offenses in general make extensive use of tight ends.

“We have a lot of stuff that involves tight ends,” Barnidge said. “We move them around. We move them around a lot. We have a lot of multiple tight-end formations. Tight ends have to know everything in the offense, just like the quarterback does. The more you know, the more you get to do.”