CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Browns wrapped up their three-day mandatory minicamp on Thursday and dispersed to various parts of the country for their six-week summer vacation.
They’ll report to training camp in late July and begin practicing on or around July 31st.
Highlights of the camp included Odell Beckham Jr. running around and catching passes after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL in November, and Jadeveon Clowney fitting in at defensive end like he’s been around for years.
Here’s some more inside intel heading into the break:
1. Linebacker Mack Wilson has had an excellent Spring
Wilson headed into minicamp knowing he had to step up his game to make the roster this season, and he delivered. Wilson was active during organized team activities and minicamp, and punctuated the final practice by picking off a pass over the middle.
Wilson needs to stand out in training camp because the Browns drafted Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Tony Fields, signed Anthony Walker and re-signed Malcom Smith. Competition at the weakside linebacker spot, where Wilson is working, will be fierce, but he can challenge for playing time with an excellent preseason.
Wilson graded out at 36.2 last season for 94th in the NFL among qualifying linebackers according to Pro Football Focus, but he suffered a hyperextended knee in training camp and missed three games. He wasn’t 100% early on, and that cost him. Now that he’s healthy, he looks faster and more productive, and will split some first-team reps early in camp with Jacob Phillips at the Will or weakside position.
But Phillips and Wilson will both have to bring it, because second-round pick Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will be hot on their heels. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods wants to bring JOK along gradually, but it will be hard to pump the brakes on him, especially with Walker taking him under his wing. Walker has also been a tremendous help to the other young linebackers, including Wilson.
Still, Wilson has been one of the pleasant surprises of the offseason, and has improved his standing considerably.
2. Greg Newsome excelled over the past month
Newsome also wrapped up his minicamp by picking off Baker Mayfield on a deep ball over the middle and returning it to a chorus of cheers from the defense. Newsome came up the learning curve quickly from rookie minicamp through mandatory minicamp, and will make a push to start right away opposite Denzel Ward.
But Greedy Williams, his main challenger for the job, is still getting the strength back in his shoulder, and was limited during minicamp. The real competition between these two will heat up when Williams is healthier during training camp, and he’ll likely get stronger as the preseason goes along.
Williams has experience on his side, and Woods likes veteran players, especially against a team like the Chiefs on Sept. 12th. But Newsome has looked so good, he has a bona fide chance to win the job.
3. Sione Takitaki currently the SAM frontrunner
Incumbent Takitaki still has the edge to start at strongside linebacker, but some of that will depend on how fast Owusu-Koramoah comes along at Will. If he wins the starting job, Phillips could press Takitaki for time on the strongside. Anthony Walker is pretty much a lock to start at the Mike spot, and the Browns were thrilled with the leadership he showed during OTAs and minicamp.
The Browns have an infusion of veteran leadership at all three levels of the defense with Malik Jackson at defensive tackle, Walker, and John Johnson III at safety.
4. Don’t count Ronnie Harrison out to start opposite Johnson
Harrison had an outstanding offseason and is currently the frontrunner to start opposite John Johnson III at safety, ahead of Grant Delpit. Harrison didn’t join the team until after training camp last year, when everything was installed and the heavy lifting was done. He then suffered the shoulder injury in late November against the Jaguars and missed five games. Harrison knows the scheme now and he’s healthy, so he’s playing fast and loose.
He has a nose for the ball, and he’s a natural in Joe Woods’ scheme. Delpit (Achilles) was also limited during minicamp, and will give Harrison more of a battle when he’s healthier during training camp. But with Harrison improving significantly since last season, Delpit has a lot of ground to make up in a hurry. When he’s healthy, all three will play a lot, and will be on the field together in the three-safety big nickel.
5. The starting defensive tackles
Malik Jackson and Andrew Billings have established themselves early on as the two starting defensive tackles, with Jackson being the pass-rush specialist and Billings more of a run stopper. Billings has a few pounds to lose after opting out last season, but the Browns are confident he’ll be in shape by training camp. Regardless, Billings can move, and the Browns are excited about their one-two punch inside.
6. The Browns offered Sheldon Richardson more money than the Vikings
The Browns hoped to re-sign Richardson, but he took a little less to return to the Vikings — a one-year deal worth $3.6 million, with incentive that can increase it to $4.35 million. Richardson wanted to return to the Browns, but it was more about principle after they terminated his contract in April to save $12 million on the salary cap. A little bump in the salary may have brought him back, but the Browns set their price and stuck to it. Richardson admitted that he didn’t get the deal he wanted from the Browns to return, and is now reunited with Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, for whom he played in 2018.
7. Odell Beckham Jr. exceeded expectations
The Browns are amazed at where Beckham is in his recovery from the ACL surgery in November. Without a brace or sleeve on the knee, Beckham has been running fullspeed, cutting on a dime and leaping to make his trademark one-handed catches. He attended Mayfield’s passing camp in Austin, Tex. and the two displayed better timing and rhythm. They also got to know each better off the field during some boating and other recreational activities in Austin. That should translate to better chemistry on the field, and the Browns are optimistic about a great connection between the two this season.
8. Baker Mayfield has matured and developed
The Browns have been pleased with Mayfield’s development on and off the field heading into his fourth NFL season. Having turned 26 in April, he’s matured personally and his grasp of the offense has improved considerably. His new footwork, implemented last offseason by offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, still needs some refinement, but he’s far ahead of where he was at this time last year. The Browns can build on what Mayfield did in the second half of last season, and put more responsibility on his shoulders. As for his extension, neither side is in a major rush to get it done before training camp, and it will likely take at least a little longer than that. If it stretches into the season, it could get done by sometime in November. Again, with Mayfield, it’s a matter of when and not if.
9. Nick Chubb could get his extension before the start of the season
Chubb loves the Browns and vice versa, which should translate to an extension, possibly before the start of the season. Chubb stated during minicamp that he loves it here and doesn’t like the uncertainty of starting over somewhere else. I believe the Browns will negotiate an incentive-laden deal that rewards Chubb for his performance but also protects the Browns from the decline some running backs experience in their seventh and eighth years. The Browns will also be able to extend Chubb’s career by giving some of those punishing reps to Kareem Hunt, who will also likely appear on the field more with Chubb this season.
10. Third receiver outlook looks bright
The Browns will have an excellent competition during training camp for the third receiver spot behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Challengers are Donovan Peoples-Jones, Rashard Higgins, KhaDarel Hodge, JoJo Natson and third-round pick Anthony Schwartz. With many of the receivers idle or limited during minicamp, Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge got plenty of reps and took full advantage. Schwartz missed all of organized team activities and minicamp with a hamstring injury and will have to catch up in training camp. Beckham and Natson were limited coming off their ACL surgeries, but both are coming along well. Higgins missed the last two days of minicamp with an undisclosed injury, but the Browns know what he can do. Watch for Peoples-Jones and Hodge to shine during camp and make a strong case for the No. 3 spot, which will likely feature a rotation.
11. Too many offensive skill players is a good problem to have
The Browns have almost too many mouths to feed on offense and it will be difficult to keep everyone happy. The lineup features Pro Bowlers in Landry, Beckham, Hooper, Chubb and Hunt, and Kevin Stefanski will have a difficult time trying to determine how to use all of this talent. The Browns have so many good receivers, it will be tough not to play three and four receivers more often. But they also have three excellent tight ends and two of the best running backs in the NFL. They’ll have to be creative to find enough targets for everyone, and the players will have to set aside their egos for the good of the team. As long as they’re winning, not everyone can have 100 yards a game. But it’s a good problem to have in what the Browns hope will be a Super Bowl campaign.
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