Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

July 24, 2018 at 1:10 am.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter – Tyrod Taylor. Backups — Baker Mayfield, Drew Stanton, Brogan Roback.

Taylor won 22 games the past three years with the Buffalo Bills. To put that in perspective, one has to go back to Oct. 23, 2011 and count forward to add up 22 total Browns’ victories. Taylor manages the game well. He won’t dazzle with touchdown passes, but he doesn’t turn the ball over often, either. He threw 51 touchdown passes to only 14 interceptions with the Bills. Mayfield understands his role as a backup for now, but will press Taylor without making waves. Stanton, an 11-year veteran, is a perfect mentor for Mayfield and a reliable backup for Taylor.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter – Carlos Hyde. Backups — Nick Chubb, Duke Johnson Jr., Matthew Dayes, Dontrell Hilliard, FB Danny Vitale, FB Marquez Williams.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley had Le’Veon Bell in his backfield when he had the same job with the Steelers. Now with the Browns, he is likely to split the load between Hyde and Chubb. Both have similar running styles; they aren’t particularly shifty, but both can break tackles. Neither is a home-run hitter, but both will be tough to trap in the backfield because both are downhill runners. Johnson is dangerous as a receiver and will likely lead all backs in total yardage. Dayes’ best chance to make the team is as a kick returner. Vitale is a punishing, unselfish blocker.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter – David Njoku. Backups – Seth DeValve, Darren Fells, Julian Allen, Devon Cajuste.

Njoku caught 32 passes as a rookie last season and led the Browns with four receiving touchdowns. He made some spectacular catches, but also dropped balls that hit him in the hands. The Browns expect him to be more consistent and make a jump in his second year. DeValve did it a year ago, going from 10 catches as a rookie in 2016 to 33 last season, and DeValve was a fourth-round pick from Princeton – not a first-round pick from Miami as Njoku is. DeValve could take playing time from Njoku if he continues to improve and Njoku is inconsistent again. The Browns signed Fells primarily because he is an excellent blocker, but he showed in OTAs and minicamp he can also catch the ball. Allen showed hustle in spring practices and could land a spot on special teams.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters – Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins. Backups – Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Jeff Janis, Damion Ratley, Antonio Callaway, Evan Berry, C.J. Board, Da’Mari Scott, Derrick Willies.

Landry led the NFL with 112 catches last year and Gordon led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards in 2013. No wonder Haley is excited. Add speedy Higgins to that pair, and the Browns’ offense can be special, particularly if Coleman lives up to the status of being the first receiver picked in the 2016 draft. He hasn’t done that yet, and Haley has put him on notice that this is a very important training camp for him. Off-the-field issues dropped Callaway, with first-round talent, to the fourth round. The Browns have a strong support group. Callaway, rookie Ratley and Janis, a fifth-year veteran, will fight hard for backup roster spots.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LT Shon Coleman, LG Joel Bitonio, C JC Tretter, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Chris Hubbard. Backups – G/T Austin Corbett, T Christian DiLauro, G/T Spencer Drango, C/G Anthony Fabiano, G Avery Gennesy, G Geoff Gray, T Desmond Harrison, C/G Fred Lauina, C Austin Reiter, LT Greg Robinson, T Victor Salako.

Coleman is listed as the starting left tackle because he ran with the first team in spring practices, but it is worth noting the Browns signed Robinson on June 19 – after their mandatory minicamp concluded. Finding a left tackle and making sure Hubbard is ready to start at right tackle are training camp priorities. The interior is rock solid with Bitonio, Tretter and Zeitler. Hyde and Chubb will benefit from the trio’s run blocking. The Browns will sorely miss retired left tackle Joe Thomas, but Corbett, Drango, Reiter and Fabiano assure the Browns will have depth on the line if none wins a starting job. Robinson could be part of that depth, too, if he doesn’t beat out Coleman. Robinson was picked second overall by the Rams in 2014, but he hasn’t lived up to his draft status.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters – LDE Emmanuel Ogbah, DT Larry Ogunjobi, DT Trevon Coley, RDE Myles Garrett. Backups – DT Caleb Brantley, DE Carl Nassib, DE Nate Orchard, DT Daniel Ekuale, DT Jeremy Faulk, DE Marcel Frazier, DE Lenny Jones, DT Jamie Meder, DE Chris Smith, DE Chad Thomas, DT Trenton Thompson.

An ankle injury forced Garrett to miss the first four games of his rookie season last year. He missed another with a concussion. Ogbah missed the last six games with a broken foot. Both are healthy and eager to smash their combined 11 sacks last year. The Browns have enough confidence in second-year tackles Ogunjobi and Brantley that they traded 2015 first-round pick Danny Shelton to the Patriots. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is big on rotating his linemen. Nassib and Orchard at end and Meder along with Brantley or Ogunjobi at tackle give him flexibility. The Browns’ run defense improved from allowing an average of 4.6 yards an attempt in 2016 to 3.4 yards an attempt last season. But the Browns allowed 14 rushing touchdowns a year ago. Cutting down that number is the goal this year.

LINEBACKERS: Starters – SOLB Jamie Collins, MLB Joe Schobert, WLB Christian Kirksey. Backups – OLB/ILB Mychal Kendricks, ILB B.J. Bello, MLB Genard Avery, SOLB James Burgess Jr., OLB Justin Currie, ILB Jermaine Grace, OLB Brady Sheldon.

Collins is looking to bounce back from an ineffective 2017 in which a concussion and a knee injury limited him to six games and 31 tackles. If he plays with the energy the Browns expect after giving him a four-year, $50 million contract in 2017, and if ends Garrett and Ogbah fulfill their goals, the Browns defense is going to make some noise in 2018. Kirksey is a steady, dependable team leader. Schobert says he “just scratched the surface” last season in his first year as a starter. Kendricks and Burgess will keep the starters fresh. If nothing else, rookie Avery will likely be a leader on special teams.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters – RCB T.J. Carrie, LCB Denzel Ward, FS Damarious Randall, SS Jabrill Peppers. Backups – CB E.J. Gaines, SS Derrick Kindred, CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun, CB Elijah Campbell, S Micah Hannemann, CB Mike Jordan, DB Montrel Meander, CB Terrance Mitchell, CB Denzel Rice, DB Tigie Sankoh, S Derron Smith, CB Simeon Thomas.

This is the defensive unit that will be under the most scrutiny in training camp. Randall, Gaines, Carrie and Mitchell were all acquired in the offseason before Ward and Thomas were selected in the draft. Putting Randall at free safety will allow Peppers to play closer to the line of scrimmage. He is a fierce tackler, but he lined up 30 yards downfield last year. It was often like playing with 10 defenders. The Browns expect Ward to be a shutdown corner. Carrie and Gaines should stage a battle to be the starting right cornerback. Boddy-Calhoun always seems to be around the ball, so he will be a factor, too. The Browns gave up 28 touchdowns through the air last year. An improved pass rush and an upgraded secondary should reduce that number drastically.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Zane Gonzalez, P Britton Colquitt, LS Charley Hughlett, PR Antonio Callaway, KR Corey Coleman, K Ross Martin, P Justin Vogel.

Gonzalez finished strong after a shaky start to his rookie season. He made 12 of his last 15 field-goal tries after missing three of his first five attempts. Colquitt averaged 47.6 yards a punt last season and put 24 punts inside the 20 with only two touchbacks. Vogel, though, is more than a training camp leg. He averaged 44.4 yards on 71 punts with the Packers last year. Hughlett has been Mr. Automatic as the Browns’ long snapper for three straight years. There is no reason to expect that to change. Jabrill Peppers was hesitant as a punt returner last year. That will not be the case with Callaway if he plays as he did at Florida. Kick returner is an ongoing project. Coleman has the speed and moves to play the role, but he could be challenged by Callaway or Peppers.




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