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Browns Mailbag: What will be top strength of Browns’ defense?

Posted Aug 11, 2017

Senior writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week

We’re going through the mailbag the morning after Cleveland’s preseason opening win against the Saints…

What will be the strongest part of our defense? -- Derek H., East Cleveland

During last week’s Orange & Brown Scrimmage, Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown was asked which position group excited him the most. He admitted the makeup of Cleveland’s front seven had him optimistic the team was ready to make significant improvement on defense. The Browns are set up nicely with Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins at linebacker but are young at the reserve spots. That’s why I’m focusing on the defensive line, which has an ideal mix of talented youngsters, players entering their prime and savvy veterans. The depth is what has stood out the most throughout the preseason, and it’s a major reason why a player as talented as third-round selection Larry Ogunjobi, who has had a good camp, remains on the third-team unit. The group looked good on paper entering training camp and has proven to be even better because veteran Desmond Bryant appears to be back to his old self, Myles Garrett has been as advertised and Danny Shelton appears poised to take the next step in his development. The emergence of an under-the-radar player such as Trevon Coley has added even more depth to a group that will make it tough on Browns’ decision-makers when it’s time to cut down the roster.

How bad is Caleb Brantley's finger injury? He was the steal of the draft but in your opinion how much practice can he miss? -- Jan B., Bradenton, Florida

Every practice matters for everyone on the roster, especially the rookies, so it’s not ideal for him to have missed so much time. Brantley didn’t dress for last night’s preseason opener and it’s unclear when he’ll be back. He was ballparked to miss a week or two when the injury occurred, so he’s definitely on the back end of his recovery time, barring any setbacks.

Is this the final year that the 2015 first round picks, Danny Shelton and Cam Erving, have to prove themselves of worth to the Browns or they're cut/traded? -- Jay R., Jupiter, Florida

Shelton enters his third season as a first-team defensive tackle and, coming off a 2016 season in which many believe he played at a Pro Bowl level, has certainly proven himself. Erving has definitely had his ups and downs over the first two seasons moving from guard to center and now to tackle. Despite an uneven performance at left tackle last night, he’s had a very strong camp overall, though, and is still in the mix to start at right tackle. If he doesn’t win that battle, he offers the Browns a very versatile player off the bench -- a must for any backup offensive lineman on a team with as much depth in the room as the Browns.

If they are committed to a strong running game, will they use a fullback to clear lanes like they did with Peyton Hillis? If so who is being worked into the position? -- Joe L, Ohio

The Browns have used a fullback in most weeks since Hue Jackson took over as head coach last season. Since about the midpoint of 2016, that player has been Danny Vitale, who got the start in last night’s game. There are no other fullbacks on the 90-man roster.

I haven't been hearing a lot about newly acquired safety Calvin Pryor. How is he developing and what role will he have on the team? -- Zach A., Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Pryor got a bunch of playing time last night as a second- and third-team safety. He’s listed as a third-team safety alongside Kai Nacua on the team’s unofficial depth chart, but the Browns use so many different formations and packages with those players, it’s a fool’s errand to get sucked into a player’s spot on that sheet of paper. Pryor came to Cleveland under tough circumstances because the timing was so late in the spring and he was tasked to learn a brand new playbook at warp speed. He’s made some plays here and there and is among a number of worthy candidates for a small amount of coveted spots on the 53-man roster.

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