The Browns concluded their mandatory minicamp Thursday with a practice at FirstEnergy Stadium, the third and final tune-up of the week and last the team will have until training camp begins in late July.
Head Coach Kevin Stefanski kept the three practices light for the Browns, who visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday and practiced only once at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus this week. Still, the week was productive and gave us a peek into how some players have progressed throughout the offseason program, as well as other plans the Browns could have in store for 2022.
Here's five takeaways from minicamp:
Team-bonding will pay dividends during season
Stefanski stressed throughout the offseason program that team-bonding was one of, if not perhaps the biggest priority the Browns were looking to achieve with players back in Cleveland under a setting free of pandemic restrictions.
The Browns coordinated two trips to venues away from CrossCountry Mortgage Campus during the program. The first was a visit to the Cavaliers’ team facility, where players took shots instead of practicing on the 10th day of OTAs. The second was the Hall of Fame visit, which followed a light 30-minute practice at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
During two of the weekends, QB Deshaun Watson also took the offense on a trip to the Bahamas, and Myles Garrett took the defense on a trip to Miami.
"To be a great team, you have to have that camaraderie," LB Anthony Walker said Wednesday. "You have to have that team mindset because when you go through the dark days — sometimes when you lose — or the dog days of camp, the dog days of this grind, minicamp, and everything like that, you need that team brotherhood and team bond to bring the team together."
Stefanski couldn't implement the same type of relaxed, social-friendly and in-person measures to create team-bonding opportunities his first two seasons as head coach. The activities this offseason, though, clearly had a positive effect on the team as minicamp concluded. Players constantly appeared to be exchanging jokes on the field, and as the final round of interviews concluded Thursday at FirstEnergy Stadium, a few players popped into the scrums to ask their own questions.
D'Ernest Johnson asked Jadeveon Clowney what his goals were this season, to which Clowney replied getting more sacks and tackles for a loss. WR Amari Cooper poked in later, asking if Clowney would come to his birthday party. Clowney chuckled and said he would if he didn't have a football camp on the same day.
It was a fitting scene to end a minicamp built to be enjoyable for the players.
"I think the guys had fun," Stefanski said. "They had fun competing and pushing each other, but I think ultimately we got a lot of work done but we did it in a safe manner."
Check out photos of players and coaches working throughout the offseason
Offensive groundwork has been laid, but it isn't finished
Most of the Browns were looking to accomplish in minicamp was about the passing game. With three new quarterbacks and 12 padless practices over the course of the offseason program, that philosophy made plenty of sense.
The Browns will likely install several new wrinkles in their offense now that Deshaun Watson is the quarterback. For the last two seasons, Stefanski prefaced the offense on a heavy run game with several play-action passing plays, and while those principles might not change, the Browns do have more room to be flexible with a mobile, strong-armed quarterback like Watson.
Add in the fact that the Browns, who led the league in 13-personnel usage (1 RB, 3 TEs) the last two seasons, no longer have TE Austin Hooper, and it's safe to assume the Browns will spend much of time leading up to Week 1 retooling an offense to fit the strengths of all players on the offense.
"We do want to become masters of the offense by the time Week 1 rolls around," Stefanski said. "It's a process. You can't just plug something into the back of your head and get it. You have to work at it and spend some time with it."
Young players were the core focus
The Browns shuffled several younger players through first-team reps during minicamp and the offseason program. Jacob Phillips was playing first-team MIKE linebacker. Donovan Peoples-Jones, Anthony Schwartz and David Bell were also rotated at wide receiver. Third-round rookie CB Martin Emerson Jr. had a handful of reps on first-team defense. Those were among the most notable, but others were given looks on the top units, too.
The Browns know what they have on most of the roster because they have so many core players who have been here for both of Stefanski's seasons. So, with only a finite amount of reps before training camp, minicamp provided the coaches an optimal time to evaluate the younger talent with an even greater focus in this particular minicamp.
"We have a lot of young guys who we are excited about," Stefanski said. "There is so much that goes into it. There is so much from a meeting standpoint. There is so much from the workouts and being out here in practice. We throw a lot at them. It is hard for me to single one guy out, but we are really excited about the young guys. It is as much to do with what they can bring on the field with off the field."
David Bell's hands were in midseason form
Speaking of young players, Bell, the third-round rookie WR from Purdue, went weeks without dropping a pass in practice.
He was asked Wednesday in his media interview if he's actually dropped a pass at all during the offseason program. He said he has, but it came back during the Browns' first or second OTA practice. That's impressive stuff for a rookie who has taken a considerable chunk of the throwing reps the last month.
"I'm real hard on myself," Bell said. "I think the first few days wasn't what I projected it would be. It was just a matter of getting on my feet and getting an understanding of the plays, but I think each and every day, I progress."
Bell has primarily been used in the slot role throughout the offseason program but will receive plenty of reps on the outside in training camp. The Browns are looking for several receivers to step up behind Cooper, and Bell — as well as Schwartz and Peoples-Jones — will likely be the top candidates the Browns count on.
"He wants to be good at this so you see him working," Stefanski said. "He is the guy who gets extra. He will be in the facility at all hours working really hard with coach (pass game coordinator/wide receivers coach Chad) O'Shea to refine the game. He's a rookie, so he has plenty of room to grow and will have time to do that, but he's doing a nice job."
Clowney expects bigger, better things in Year 2 because of who's behind him
We're ending this list with one final note from the defensive side of the ball.
The Browns will have two of the game's best pass rushers for the second consecutive year in Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, who re-signed with the Browns in May and will look to stack an even better season than his first in Cleveland last year. Clowney totaled nine sacks, his best since 2018, and thrived as offenses had to decide whether to stack blockers against him or Garrett, who finished with a franchise-record 16 sacks.
The duo produced 25 total sacks, the highest combined sack total by Browns teammates, since Reggie Camp (14) and Clay Matthews (12) had 26 in 1984.
It's reasonable to believe the duo could be even better in 2022. Clowney explained why Thursday, but his explanation wasn't about Garrett — he knows he'll help him already — but rather the continuity at linebacker.
Anthony Walker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Sione Takitaki and Jacob Phillips all appear to be in line to carry the biggest roles at the position. Clowney played with all of them, and he believes that chemistry will help him produce even more in 2022.
"Everybody's back," he said. "I already know how (Walker) feels and what he likes to do, and that makes it easy on myself. I can look back there and don't even have to ask. I already know how he does. That's what will make it a lot better, playing with the same guys again instead of bouncing around and trying to figure out new guys."