CANTON, Ohio – Observations from the Cleveland Browns’ mandatory minicamp, which included a Wednesday field trip for players at the Pro Football Hall of Fame…
Due to collectively negotiated offseason rules and the Browns’ major changes at quarterback and receiver, head coach Kevin Stefanski has been adamant that his offseason workouts have focused on the game. of passes. There has been individual work for each group of positions, not to mention full team visitation sessions at every practice, but since May and the start of Organized Team Activity practices, it has always been a walk-through camp.
In May and June, the scripts for new quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Jacoby Brissett were around 350 throws in various environments at full speed, seven against seven. The goal of last week’s OTA open session and this week’s minicamp has been the red zone and third down situations, which is a natural progression for these practices. They start with the basics and finish with a focus on situations while preparing to expand the playbook when full training camp begins next month.
The Browns are about to leave for summer vacation as Thursday’s minicamp wraps up the official offseason schedule. It’s fair to assume that a ruling from the NFL on whether Watson violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy and the discipline he might face will come at some point in late June or early July, but it remains unclear whether four new civil lawsuits filed against Watson this month will affect or delay the process. Watson met with NFL investigators last month, but no one knows when the next step will come.
Thus, the Browns continue to play the waiting game. Stefanski admitted on Tuesday that it was too early to know how he could distribute training camp representatives if Watson was suspended. The third-year head coach seems to like what he’s seen on the field and in boardrooms over the past few weeks, but Watson could miss games due to an NFL suspension, which would alter everything from the team’s camp schedule to the offensive game plan. the number of quarterbacks the Browns bring to training camp.
The holidays await, though Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry probably won’t venture too far from their phones.
Third-year safety Grant Delpit was the star of Tuesday’s minicamp practice, saving a touchdown with a pass breakup and later pulling off an impressive interception to end a goal-line session. These practices have been heavily scripted, and at this point the defenses have probably seen the same routes enough times to get a fair idea of what’s next.
Still, Delpit impressed. After missing his entire rookie season and most of his second training camp, Delpit has become a more confident and disruptive player as the season progressed. He should be able to make a continued leap for a defense that gave its best late last year, and although the offseason headlines went to Watson and offense , Delpit’s continued emergence could help the defense bolster last year’s arrival.
Outside of defensive tackle, most of the regulars in other positions from last season should be back. The only new players with the first defensive group in minicamp were at defensive tackle — free agent pick-up Taven Bryan and third-year man Jordan Elliott, who made three starts and played 44% of snaps last season.
In base defense, the top three linebackers were Anthony Walker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Sione Takitaki. In the team’s defensive forfeits, Takitaki was taken out and starting cornerback Greg Newsome II moved inside to cover the slot. AJ Green took Newsome’s place on the outside as Greedy Williams sat out of minicamp while working on an injury. Delpit and John Johnson III are the primary safeties in base defense, but we also saw a lot of the three-safety look with Ronnie Harrison.
In some drills, the Browns gave third-year linebacker Jacob Phillips a few reps at Walker’s middle linebacker with the first defense. Phillips has missed time through injury in each of his first two seasons (including most of last year after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in training camp). Phillips is an upgrade in size and speed over most other linebackers, and if he can stay healthy and keep improving, he can eventually fight his way into consistent snaps. The Browns know what they want from Walker, who is one of the smartest and most experienced defensemen on the team. This summer, they want to see more Phillips.
A big play a day from Delpit would also be more than welcome. Minicamp is not the time for actual positional battles or counting reps. Young players need these reps to prepare for training camp when the volume and speed of training increases. There will be many camp days in August where Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney and Denzel Ward will skip certain sessions or entire workouts. The Browns’ young defensemen will have the opportunity to show coaches that they are mentally ready to claim those extra reps in camp as the depth charts build and real competition begins to unfold.
Second-year wide receiver Anthony Schwartz was not at practice Wednesday because he was ill. Although the Browns went through a number of different wide receiver groups this spring, that absence meant at least a slight increase in the practice depth chart for third-round rookie David Bell.
It’s no secret that the Browns expect Bell to become an immediate contributor, and the first impression is that he’s off to a good start. He seemed to catch anything thrown at him in open workouts, although Bell said he dropped a pass “in the first or second practice (OTA).” Bell said her locker was next to Watson’s, which helped them form a relationship — and that’s probably no coincidence.
“It’s been a good (time for me) to be able to understand how an NFL team works and what the daily schedule is,” Bell said. “Being with the vets and having guys take me under their wing, teaching the do’s and don’ts of the league. I am a person who wants to know if I am doing something wrong or right. These guys helped me through that process – including the playbook as well. It’s something different from college, just being able to grasp that and be with my teammates.
In most three-way series this spring, the top three wide receivers were Amari Cooper, Donovan Peoples-Jones and Schwartz. Bell had a few rounds with Watson and Cooper during open practices, and in training camp he’ll get a shot at most of the slot shots that Cooper doesn’t take. Expect new addition Jakeem Grant to at least get a glimpse of the slot. Grant was added to trigger the return game, but he’ll be a gimmick player and likely get regular rotational snaps at wide receiver. Grant hasn’t trained since week one of the OTAs due to what Stefanski called a minor leg injury.
With Bell and Grant added, second-year utility Demetric Felton faces an uphill battle to make the active roster. Felton had a solid summer as a rookie and got a few chances last season, so he shouldn’t be counted out. But the running backs room is crowded enough to think that Felton’s best shot at winning a job will be a wide receiver, and he won’t be on the front line there. The Browns will decide in the coming weeks whether they think the likes of Bell, Felton and sixth-round rookie Michael Woods provide the team with enough quality depth at wide receiver or whether the pursuit of a veteran free agent is necessary. What the guys in charge thought of Schwartz’s play this spring is likely a factor in that decision as well.
On Wednesday, the Browns held a short practice at Tom Benson Stadium adjacent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame before touring the venue. It was a bit of load management combined with a history lesson as the NFL Network documentary “Jim Brown: A Football Life” played on team buses for the hour-long trip to Canton. Family members of running back Marion Motley, who died in the Browns’ Hall of Fame, attended Wednesday’s practice and spoke to the team ahead of the Hall tour.
While it’s not certain, it’s fair to assume the Browns will be back in Canton next summer for the Hall of Fame game, as Joe Thomas will likely be a first-round inductee. The Browns last played in the Hall of Fame Game when they returned to the league in 1999.
The mandatory minicamp ends Thursday, when the Browns hold their final offseason practice at FirstEnergy Stadium. Among Wednesday’s highlights were a diving end zone catch by Felton on a pass from Brissett and a near interception by Newsome, who broke on a pass from Watson near the sideline and would have could have been caught glancing past what could have been a 95-yard touchdown in a play situation. Instead, the pass deflected from Newsome’s hands and fell out of bounds .
Rookie kicker Cade York delivered another impressive performance in Tuesday’s practice, easily taking his first five field goal tries before missing 52 yards to end the session. The Browns plan to have York as the lone kicker in training camp. Punters Corey Bojorquez and Joseph Charlton will compete for the position this summer.
(Photo by Grant Delpit: Courtesy of Cleveland Browns)