The Browns open organized team activities (better known as OTAs) next week in what’s the beginning of the final phase of offseason workouts. For the next month, we’ll get our first real look at a revamped roster and retooled coaching staff that’s trying to make the memory of the team’s first winless season feel like a distant memory.
Here are five things to monitor:
*1. New faces galore: *In a head-spinning series of moves, the Browns fundamentally reshaped the roster at the start of the new league year, adding a score of players that include veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor (who’s already been named the team’s starter), Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry, free safety Damarious Randall and running back Carlos Hyde. A month later in the NFL Draft, Cleveland tabbed its franchise quarterback of the future in Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick, former Ohio State star cornerback Denzel Ward at No. 4 and seven other standouts whom they hope will have a bright futures. In all, Cleveland has added more than 30 new players to the roster via free agency or the draft since March 14, and we'll get to see all those new faces together for the first time.
*2. QB bonding: *The Browns have been abundantly clear Taylor, who helped Buffalo snap a lengthy playoff drought last season, is their starting quarterback. After all, the 28-year-old brings a track record of winning, production and leadership at the position that Cleveland hasn’t had in some time. Even so, Taylor has welcomed Mayfield, the former Oklahoma star and Heisman Trophy winner, with open arms.
“Tyrod Taylor is the starting quarterback of this football team. That will not change. I think what happened was Tyrod went up and introduced himself, and I think that was big on Tyrod’s part. He welcomed Baker, willing to work with him. I think that is where it starts,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said.
“You have to build a friendship with people. On the other side of that, I thought that Baker was outstanding. I watched that interaction between the two and it was like they were long lost friends. There was a hug and all that. That is how you start to build a relationship with someone. Hopefully, that will teach Baker what it is like to be a quarterback in the National Football League.”
3. Todd Haley’s offense: After two years of less-than-acceptable results, Jackson decided it was in the best interest of the team that he turn over play-calling duties to someone else. That someone, former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, will debut a new-look unit armed with Taylor, Landry, Hyde, Duke Johnson Jr., Josh Gordon and an offensive line that returns four starters. Coupled with Haley’s past success — Pittsburgh was one of the league's most-potent offenses during his six seasons there — and an influx of talent, the future could be bright in Cleveland. “I’ve given Todd total autonomy with our offensive football team. He has been very respectful. Anything that I wanted to see or do, he is always asking and we are always communicating that way,” Jackson said. “There’s a respect level there as I said a long time ago when I hired him. He is one of the best in the business. That is why he is here.”
*4. New-look secondary: *After the Browns finished second-to-last in interceptions and generally struggled against opposing pass games last season, general manager John Dorsey made it a point to overhaul a defensive secondary that wasn’t up to par. It’s why the Browns drafted Ward, an All-American with the Buckeyes last season, and signed Randall (a first-round pick in 2015 who mostly played corner with the Packers), former Raiders starter T.J. Carrie, former Bills corner E.J. Gaines and Chiefs contributor Terrance Mitchell.
Dorsey, outlining the decision to add Ward to that group, said Cleveland's defense was in need of playmakers along the perimeter.
‘I like the ability of him being able to play in this defense where we need shutdown corners because (defensive coordinator) Gregg (Williams) really wants more shutdown corners,” Dorsey said the night of the draft. “He has the speed. He has the athleticism. He has the quickness. He has the ball skills.”
*5. Making the jump: *At the league’s annual meeting, Jackson said he expected the team’s 2017 first-round picks — Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers and David Njoku — to make a jump following rookie seasons of mixed results. OTAs should offer a window into that progress after weeks of private workouts not open to the media.
"My biggest message to them will be are they ready to take the next jump,” Jackson said in March. “From Year 1 to Year 2, you watch guys really improve. (They’re) young players who played a lot of football who now know what it takes to play in this league. They’ve got to go out and do it on a consistent basis.”