The Browns concluded their 2021 minicamp Thursday with a few touchdowns, a few yells and one final team clap around coach Kevin Stefanski — the last time they'll get to do that until training camp, which is just over a month away.
The final sights and sounds took place in seven-on-seven red zone drills. Rookie cornerback Greg Newsome II sent the defense running with hype after an interception, while quarterback Baker Mayfield connected with tight end David Njoku a few plays later to trigger a similar reaction, including a signature "Chief Spike" celebration from Njoku, with the offense.
Now, Cleveland heads into a six-week long break before it returns to Berea for training camp and finishes final preparations for the 2021 season.
Here's what stood out from the three days of minicamp practice:
1. Beckham is back
Odell Beckham Jr. provided plenty of evidence throughout the week that he's feeling no lingering effects from his season-ending knee injury last season.
Seven months ago, Beckham underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered in Week 7. Minicamp provided a first opportunity to see just how far he could push the knee as he continues his recovery, and it wouldn't have been a surprise to see Beckham more on the sidelines than in drills as the Browns ease him back into action.
But by the second day of minicamp Wednesday, Beckham was running full sprints and attempting to make one-handed catches again. He sat out the final practice Thursday, which was the Browns' plan for Beckham this week, but he appeared to show no limitations with his play Tuesday and Wednesday.
"It's all just part of the rehab and part of the process," Stefanski said. "As you know, he works really, really hard. I think he is progressing nicely and then we will see where he is once training camp rolls around."
Mayfield admired how quick Beckham has advanced through his recovery and believes the Browns passing game, which soared in the second half of last season as receivers stepped up in Beckham's absence, will ascend to an even higher level with him back on the field.
"It's pretty impressive how quickly he has come back," Mayfield said. "His play speaks for itself. He's an explosive player. I think when it comes to teams scheming up for our offense, he has the dynamic deep threat, and teams have to roll a safety over the top, whether they want to play one-high or two-high and just all of the things that can exploit matchups and create better opportunities for everybody else."
Check out exclusive photos of minicamp
2. Mayfield, offense looking to pick up where they left off
With the same top receivers, tight ends and every offensive line starter from 2020 back this season, it wasn't hard for the Browns offense to find a groove this week.
Minicamp served just a small sample size for what improvements will be done for a Browns offense that ranked 14th in the NFL and third in rushing last season. The sights, however, of Mayfield zipping passes to Beckham, Jarvis Landry and the batch of tight ends who helped him achieve one of his best seasons in 2020 was pleasing to see.
With no pads, action was limited for running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, but it's a safe bet to expect both players will come into training camp fully prepared to give Cleveland one of the top rushing games again this season.
The benefits of continuity, from both the players and coaches, was evident.
"We always work collaboratively," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "That is the greatest thing about this staff. Everybody has a say, everybody has an equal opinion and we all respect each other's opinions. This is a really great offensive staff, so a lot of guys have great ideas that come from winning programs in other places. The beauty of our staff is that I feel like we all work really well together."
Plenty of work is left, however, to build a finished product. The offensive playbook is still undergoing minor tweaks, and position battles for depth roles, specifically in the offensive line and at wide receiver (more on that later), still have to be determined.
"There's a lot of work to be done," Mayfield said. "Those lines of communication will always be open when it comes to all of us getting on the same page."
3. Defense makes big strides in coming together
The storylines about all the new free-agent additions and draft picks for the Browns defense won't be dying down anytime soon.
Minicamp made it clear the Browns defense has already completed significant progress in coming together both in their cohesiveness on the field and in overall chemistry. The defensive line, in particular, was especially vibrant throughout the week as players laughed and hollered in encouragement during drills.
One of the best scenes, however, came after Newsome's seven-on-seven red-zone interception in the final minutes of Thursday's practice. After he snagged the pick, Newsome sprinted with the ball around the sideline as the entire defense followed him in celebration.
"This is a good team, and this group of guys enjoy themselves," defensive end Jadeveon Clowney said Wednesday. "They're having a good time. They're fun to be around. Everybody is flying around. Everybody is smiling. It's a young team, so you all kind of get the idea of what I mean by everybody having a good time and having fun."
Gauging the true progress of the defense, which is set to feature new starters at every position, will be a tough task until players strap pads on for live reps in training camp and preseason games, but the overall vibes from minicamp suggested things clicked well among the group in virtual meetings earlier in the offseason and throughout their first full week in Berea for practice.
"We're very excited," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said Thursday. "I feel like (Executive Vice President and GM Andrew Berry) and the scouts have done a great job in free agency and the draft in terms of bringing talented players at key positions. We're excited about the future and can't wait to get training camp going."
4. Early look at position battles
We'll start this section off by emphasizing that the real answers to the Browns' top position battles won't come until training camp. Plenty of things can change over the next month and a half, but it was still interesting to see which players lined up at certain points of the week.
First, we'll start off at defensive tackle, where eight guys are jostling for roles at a position that will need two new starters in 2021. Malik Jackson, a 10-year veteran who signed as a free agent this offseason, was one of them. So was Andrew Billings, who opted out of the 2020 season but returned with three full seasons of NFL experience.
In the future, other guys in the shuffle could include Jordan Elliott, who trimmed 10 pounds over the offseason and showed off a thinner, faster performance in minicamp, as well as Damion Square, Tommy Togiai, Sheldon Day, Marvin Wilson and Malik McDowell.
At cornerback, Greedy Williams and Newsome were each used in first-team reps along with Denzel Ward and Troy Hill. John Johnson III and Ronnie Harrison Jr. got the bulk of first-team reps at safety while 2020 second-round pick Grant Delpit practiced in sporadic individual drills as he continues to recover from an Achilles injury. LBs Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Mack Wilson each joined veteran leader Anthony Walker at first reps at linebacker, too.
On the offensive side, the most compelling position battle perhaps comes at wide receiver. Beckham and Jarvis Landry are entrenched in the top spots, but Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones, JoJo Natson, and KhaDarel Hodge, among other receivers, headline the competition for the third spot.
"Those guys push each other," Stefanski said. "They know everybody, when they walk in this building, myself included, you are fighting for a job. That is the competitive nature of this game. It just pushes everybody to elevate their game."
5. Newsome, 'JOK' made the most of minicamp reps
Woods was pleased with what he saw out of the two top draft picks who practiced with the rest of the team for the first time as Browns players.
Newsome and Owusu-Koramoah were each given plenty of team reps throughout the week, and both players showcased why they held such high value from the front office. In addition to his interception, Newsome made plays on the ball each day of minicamp, while Owusu-Koramoah displayed quick closing speed and ran step-by-step with some of the fastest offensive weapons on the offense.
"Those guys are both very smart players," Woods said. "They're very competitive players. They just bring a different element to the team. They go out there and they go hard all the time. It's been good having both of those guys involved."
We'll see again in August just how close both guys are to cracking starting jobs, but the Browns aren't in any rush to find out. Veteran players are already slotted at both positions — Ward, Hill and Williams are capable of handling top CB duties, while Walker, Wilson, Sione Takitaki and second-year vet Jacob Phillips handled heavy linebacker duties last season.