New Browns pass game coordinator/wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea on Wednesday provided a thorough update on his group as it nears the end of the virtual offseason.
1. Where Donovan Peoples-Jones has impressed most
Ever since Donovan Peoples-Jones was a five-star prospect, coaches and teammates have raved about his athleticism and potential as a wide receiver. O'Shea, though, highlighted a different aspect of Peoples-Jones that attracted the Browns to him.
"He has great character. He is highly intelligent. There were people who gave him very high recommendations throughout the process," O'Shea said. "We had a chance to interview him at the combine and were very impressed with him as a person. I think it starts there that we thought we were getting a solid person who has the ability to play from a mental standpoint in several positions, which will help him increase his opportunities with us."
On top of playing multiple positions at wide receiver, Peoples-Jones is also expected to compete on special teams as a potential option at returner. At Michigan, Peoples-Jones returned two punts for touchdowns and was always a threat with the ball in his hands.
"Just like the other guys in the program, he has come in, he has really worked hard and he has tried to do what we have asked," O'Shea said. "We spent some time with the rookies – again, on virtual – and it has been a very important part of their development. We have worked really hard with those guys, and they have worked hard themselves when we are not on with them."
2. O'Shea likes Hunt's skills as a pass-catcher
In his eight games following a suspension, RB Kareem Hunt made his biggest impact last season as a pass-catcher. He hauled in 37 passes for 285 yards and a touchdown. Both his averages per game for receptions and yards were by far the best of his career.
That skill set certainly hasn't escaped O'Shea.
"I will say that I have been impressed with him as a receiver as a running back," O'Shea said. "I have been fortunate to be around a lot at that spot, and I know that it brings great value to that position when you can be a threat in the pass game, for sure."
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3. Big opportunity awaits Rashard Higgins
Rashard Higgins didn't have the 2019 season he envisioned, but he and the Browns are more than ready to put it in the past.
O'Shea has watched plenty of film of Higgins, who signed a new contract with the team during the spring. O'Shea liked what he saw from Higgins in his role as a third receiver, where he shined in 2018 on his way to a career-best 39 receptions, 572 yards and four touchdowns.
"I think what he has done is come in and embraced the new offense," O'Shea said. "He has certainly worked very hard, and he knows that he has an opportunity. We brought him back because we believe he can help the team, and he understands that. That has been very clear. I think that the biggest thing with him is physically he has been trying to put himself in a great position, and that starts with being as healthy as he possibly can, which is important for everybody.
"He has really embraced learning the offense, which is going to be really important for him, as it is for all of our guys in the room. I am really excited to have the opportunity to coach him."
4. Checking in with Baker
On a recent call with reporters, coach Kevin Stefanski said quarterback Baker Mayfield has been making regular appearances in meetings with the wide receivers. It's been done with a purpose to establish as much chemistry as possible while not being able to get on the field together.
O'Shea has welcomed him with open arms.
"He is somebody that I obviously am very impressed with right now with his commitment and his work ethic," O'Shea said. "He has had a lot of interaction and we have had a lot of interaction as a group together. I think that is very important for the position that I coach that we have a great relationship and we build trust with each other at the quarterback position. It is something that is going to be very important, especially as it relates to the passing game.
"I have always believed the more time we can spend together, the better the chances are that we are going to have success. This platform that we have as far as spending time together, it has benefited us. I just think looking back, it is amazing what you can accomplish with technology."
5. Small window to impress
Along with Peoples-Jones, the Browns have two other rookies looking to impress at wide receiver in Ja'Marcus Bradley and Tony Brown. For the undrafted free agents, impressing enough to make the team would have been a challenge no matter the circumstances.
With no on-field repetitions during the spring, that challenge will grow. O'Shea passed along the advice he's given the group of rookies, who received some extra time with him during the virtual rookie minicamp that preceded them joining the rest of the team.
"I am confident that when we do get on the field that we and they have put themselves in a position where they are going to have the opportunity," O'Shea said. "We have talked to the rookie receivers about this, there are going to be limited opportunities that you have to make the most of your opportunities with. I think that is the biggest thing is there is going to be a small window, and they are going to have to nail it. If they are not prepared, they do not do their job in these virtual settings and they do not truly embrace what we are trying to do, it is going to be near impossible for them to have the opportunity to succeed if they are not prepared and they do not know what to do.
"I think even more so than other years, this period is so critical for us in our teaching and our learning that we get it and we get it right because we have to hit the field and hit the ground running."