Ray Horton wants Danny Shelton to be a better player at the end of the year than he is now, and the Browns defensive coordinator is confident his second-year nose guard has the right approach to make that happen. [
In recent weeks, Horton and Browns coach Hue Jackson have praised Shelton for how he's responded to their requests to alter his technique. Because the Browns' defensive line is relatively young, Shelton doesn't have many teammates within the room who can show him the tricks of the trade in the NFL.
So, Horton has taken Shelton back to school.
"I have been giving him homework assignments of other players in the league to watch," Horton said. "I think that is critical that you watch peers in the league do things and so you can say, 'Oh, that is how it is done at a high level,' especially when we are young.
"Danny, he is getting ready – I don't know how many games he started last year – to play his 17th NFL game. That is a small sample of games. He is going to continue to get better."
Shelton played deep into multiple preseason games as Horton evaluated what he had in the former first-round pick and what he and his defensive staff can do with him in his second season. Horton said he envisions Shelton as a defensive tackle who can make plays from "the numbers to the numbers" rather than one who is a "plugger."
Shelton hopes to accomplish both.
"At the same time, I want to be the guy that plugs up the holes and does his job the right way," Shelton said. "I definitely am looking forward to making more plays and producing more."
'Locked and loaded'
Browns special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said the team is "locked and loaded" with George Atkinson III and Duke Johnson Jr. on kickoff returns and Corey Coleman and Tramon Williams on punts.
Asked if all four would be used in some capacity at Philadelphia, Tabor said, "we will see how it goes."
Atkinson, acquired Sunday off waivers from Oakland, returned a kickoff for a touchdown during the preseason and was a regular at the position during his three years at Notre Dame.
"I remember writing him up coming out of Notre Dame as a returner and then obviously, kind of following him," Tabor said. "He is a guy that has a lot of the traits that we are looking for. We are still kind of getting to know each other a little bit, but he has been excellent, everything as advertised. We are going through the process, and I expect him to play well."
Johnson returned two kickoffs last season and was Miami's regular kickoff returner as a freshman and sophomore.
Coleman, a regular on kickoffs at Baylor, fielded a few punts in college and a few during the preseason. Williams was Green Bay's top punt returner in 2010.
Tabor hopes the Browns don't miss a beat on punts this season with Britton Colquitt taking over for veteran Andy Lee, who was traded last month to Carolina for a 2018 fourth-round pick.
Cleveland signed Colquitt shortly after rosters were trimmed to 53 players. The veteran spent the previous six seasons with the Denver Broncos, averaging 45.2 yards on his 472 punts.
Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said Colquitt was identified as a potential option before the trade with Carolina was executed.
"We want Britton and plan on Britton to have a great career here with the Browns and have a great season with us," Tabor said. "To have an established guy like that, sure, it does relieve you a little bit, but at the same time, we have to do a good job with our cover units because when you are facing a guy like (Darren) Sproles, you have your work cut out for you."
Reflecting on Gilbert trade
Brown said he was "mindful" of the dangers of trading within the division but ultimately concluded the trade he executed with the Steelers last week was best for the team.
In the hours before rosters needed to be dropped to 53 players, the Browns traded cornerback Justin Gilbert to the Steelers for a 2018 sixth-round pick.
"I think you have to be mindful of it, but that's a consideration for us in terms of sending a guy to Pittsburgh," Brown said. "(Steelers vice president and general manager) Kevin Colbert and I laughed on the phone. I think that's how we began the conversation. They were interested in Justin and we felt like where we were with our depth chart the better opportunity it was for us to move him."
More than runners
A smile crossed Pep Hamilton's face when he heard about Jackson's "why not more?" response to Isaiah Crowell's goal for 1,000 yards in 2016. He got serious in a hurry, though, when he discussed what he's liked most from the third-year running back throughout training camp.
It's been more than just what Crowell has done with the ball in his hands.
"For us, ideally, we want to finish a game running the football. In my past experience, when you have an opportunity to hand the ball off to a runner such as Crow early in the game, as well as late in the game like I just mentioned, you typically have a chance to run defenses down and have success running the football," Hamilton said. "Crow has not only run the ball well. He has done an outstanding job of playing without the ball in the preseason. That is just as important as being able to run the football in the National Football League. He will be ready to go."
Crowell will be flanked by Johnson, whom Hamilton called "arguably one of the best third down backs in the National Football League." Hamilton expects Johnson to be able to help on all three downs.
"We have two really good tailbacks, and it is our job as coaches and the guys around those guys to make sure that we give them an opportunity to do what it is that they do best and that is carry the football," Hamilton said. "Duke has shown tremendous versatility not only as a runner but as a pass receiver out of the backfield."