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OTAs & Minicamp

5 storylines to watch at Browns minicamp

Mandatory minicamp begins in Berea on Tuesday, and with it comes a fresh batch of key points of focus.

We already know the value of who with this team, but there are plenty of how, what, where and why questions to answer. Let's dive into five storylines to watch as the Browns gather as one to finish up offseason activities.

1. New man in town

Odell Beckham Jr. will be in attendance for the start of mandatory minicamp, giving us our first chance to see the full-strength offense at work.

Well, almost full strength.

Teammate and best friend Jarvis Landry's participation is still to be determined, and it sounds as if it's more likely he'll watch from the sideline as a precaution. The offense won't be at 100 percent strength, then, but there's still plenty of opportunity to see what Cleveland's ball-moving group might look like. It should be promising, and more importantly, it will afford Beckham his first lengthy time working with quarterback Baker Mayfield since the team completed the installs of its base offense in the last three weeks.

Last week, head coach Freddie Kitchens said Beckham missed "a lot" while absent. Three days is not three weeks, but it's a very basic start on establishing a rapport within the team's intended offense, even if players aren't going at full speed.

Check back for excellent photos and video of Beckham with his new teammates.

Check out photos from the ninth day of OTA practices

2. Bullish on the backfield

Even in jerseys and shorts, Kareem Hunt looks tantalizingly good. He's the new guy, along with Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson. This will be the first time all three are in the building and on the field together, and we should get the slightest peek at how the three will sort out during this brief period.

Will Hunt see more carries or catches? The same question applies to Johnson. And where in this does Chubb, the presumed lead back, fit in? Running backs coach Stump Mitchell talked last week about how much work Chubb has completed on improving as a pass-catcher, since he simply didn't receive targets out of the backfield much at Georgia. Might we be seeing the beginning of the NFL's most dangerous backfield?

The Browns also have to prepare for life without Hunt for eight weeks, and Johnson hasn't been in Berea before this week, so there's plenty to accomplish with this incredibly talented group.

3. How do the defensive pieces fit together?

Greedy Williams is a rookie, Eric Murray and Morgan Burnett are new arrivals at safety, and Jermaine Whitehead has been receiving plenty of first-team snaps. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks gave positive reviews of Whitehead, whom he called smart and excellent at communicating. It's June, but it seems like this could be Whitehead's breakout campaign -- that is, if he can find a place for himself in the secondary.

Murray and Burnett also need to further settle into where they might be playing, while Williams continues his acclimation process as the new corner in town opposite second-year defender Denzel Ward, who spoke of he and Williams as a future tandem. They've gotten time together, but it seems there's slightly more importance with mandatory minicamp. The word "mandatory" just carries more weight.

Might they be running back some things from the last three weeks? Sure, but now the full roster is in town -- which means Damarious Randall's trash talking vocal cords should be rested and ready to go for this week.

Check out photos from the eighth day of OTA practices

4. Assembly of the offensive line

We don't get much insight during this period because offensive line positions are won with the pads on. Everyone can look good in shorts and jerseys because it's half-speed and more about technique and footwork than anything. The removal of pads also removes the physical battle that reveals the strength of personal will and desire. That's what often decides a close competition along the offensive line.

In the meantime, we'll continue to get looks at a variety of linemen in different spots. Austin Corbett, the projected starter at right guard, has been getting reps at center because there's no better time than now to practice his technique in case of emergency. Kyle Kalis has gotten reps at right guard as a result. 

We've also seen Drew Forbes split time between tackle and guard. Forbes told me last week he's had to spend a lot of time on learning how to properly vertical pass drop (in simple terms, drop back to pass block). In college, his Southeast Missouri Redhawks largely just slide protected (shuffling left or right as a group with little depth surrendered) or 45-degree stepped on the edge at best. For someone who just slide protected, a vertical pass drop requires learning new movement -- and then perfecting that movement -- all at an NFL speed. Now is the perfect time to do it for Forbes.

Behind the scenes photos from Media Day

5. Kitchens at the controls -- and Baker in Year 2

Kitchens will have the whole squad in town by mandate for the first time as head coach, and so far, he's looking much more comfortable at the helm of the Browns. He was asked last week to self-scout and declined, saying he doesn't constantly analyze himself in the moment. That's wise because there are plenty of other more important things to deal with right now.

But if he had to, he should be fairly pleased with what he's seeing in the mirror. Special teams has become a focal point of practice, with field goal and kickoff unit work coming in the middle of the day, not just tacked on at the end. He's concise and firm with his corrections and won't let practice continue until the team accomplishes what he wants accomplished correctly. And by all accounts, his players like him and are buying in (in fact, a couple even picked him as their choice for biggest prankster in the building). These are all good signs for a first-time head coach.

Kitchens and quarterbacks coach Ryan Lindley both said it last week: Baker Mayfield's time with receivers expected to slot below Beckham and Landry on the depth chart was a bit of a blessing in disguise because it helped Mayfield learn how to get through his progressions better. He couldn't rely on option A (Beckham, perhaps) being open because he's that skilled at getting open; he instead had to read properly before deciding to throw.

Those are good mental reps for a quarterback who is going to have a ton of expectations on his shoulders in Year 2, even as he's working in an offense coached by the same person who teamed with him to transform the offense at the end of 2018. Now you sprinkle in Beckham, and perhaps Landry, and you'll start to see the very preliminary fruits of your labor.

Again, though, this is June. There are no pads. This is the basic stuff. But boy, it sure feels good to see these guys at (near) full strength back on the field. The season can't get here soon enough.

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