OTAs & Minicamp

5 things we learned from 3 weeks of Browns OTAs

The Browns have two more OTAs on the docket before they head into a three-day, mandatory veteran minicamp.

Their time in front of the cameras after practice, for now, is over until Tuesday. It gives us the perfect opportunity to reflect on what we saw and what we might expect to see throughout the upcoming months leading into the 2018 season.

Here are the five biggest takeaways from three weeks of OTAs.

1. Tyrod Taylor’s impact as QB1 nothing but positive

Taylor came to Cleveland in March well-touted for his leadership skills and he’s made a quick impression on the Browns’ new-look roster, which still skews a little young even after an offseason of adding veterans to most position groups. 

The stability Taylor has brought to the Browns’ offense, which has dealt with a quarterback competition on a nearly annual basis at OTAs since the franchise returned in 1999, has been equally impactful.

“It’s big, especially when he has a good rapport with the OC,” fifth-year offensive guard Joel Bitonio said. “A lot of times you put in the playbook, it changes … the way calls are made, the way protections are called. You have to have good knowledge of the offense. If you have a quarterback when you say Day 1, ‘this is our guy, this is who we’re rolling with,’ he has the nine weeks of offseason workouts, all of camp, preseason to get the offense down pat.

“I think Tyrod is the right guy for the job.” 

2. Training camp competition will be fierce at multiple positions

Tuesday’s arrival of veteran linebacker Mychal Kendricks was symbolic of Cleveland’s offseason as a whole.

The Browns appeared -- on the surface, at least -- set at the linebacker position with the return of all three starters from 2017 -- Joe Schobert, Christian Kirksey and Jamie Collins Sr. They added a promising player in the draft and also returned James Burgess Jr., who filled in admirably when Collins went down with a season-ending injury. Still, Cleveland saw an opportunity to add a quality player who fit perfectly within its scheme.

“I think that if you are a good football player and you can make plays for us, (defensive coordinator) Gregg (Williams) is going to find a way to get you onto the field,” Jackson said. “It is a good problem to have … Kudos to (general manager) John Dorsey and his group for continuing to add good players to our football team.”

That mindset has made 53-man roster projections a little trickier than in years’ past.

“We are going to have some really tough decisions as we go because there are a lot of good football players on this team. That is the way that it should be,” Jackson said. “I think we have improved every position group on this team. I think we will have some tough decisions, and I do not think you would want it any other way.”

3. Rookies will have to earn their way onto field

Much like Myles Garrett in 2017, Denzel Ward learned nothing would be handed to him throughout the first two weeks of OTAs. The No. 4 pick in the draft worked mostly with the second- and third-team defense during sessions open to reporters.

On Tuesday, Ward was with the first team, a promotion, Jackson said, that was earned by Ward, who has quickly adapted to the NFL’s speed and complexity. It’s about the same time of year Garrett, the No. 1 pick last year, worked his way up to the first group.

The rest of Cleveland’s rookies will have to show similar mettle to earn starting status or prime playing time over the course of the next couple of months. The aforementioned roster shakeup will make it even more of a challenge for the nine-man class, which is joining a deeper team than the rookie classes of recent years.

4. Expect plenty of mixing and matching in the secondary

Outside of the quarterback room, no position group on the Browns’ roster underwent a bigger makeover than the secondary, particularly at cornerback. Briean Boddy-Calhoun is essentially the lone holdover from last year’s group after the team added Damarious Randall -- a cornerback in Green Bay who will play free safety for the Browns -- three veteran cornerbacks in free agency -- T.J. Carrie, Terrance Mitchell and E.J. Gaines -- and Ward in the draft.

It’s allowed Williams to experiment a lot with the players, mixing and matching them with various units and playing them in different spots. Boddy-Calhoun has been seen at safety and cornerback while Carrie and Gaines both have experience playing on the inside and outside.

“Today's game is all about having three No. 1 corners,” Carrie said. “So many years ago it was about having two. Now with offenses being able to spread the field out with so many different receivers, you have to have at least three corners.”

5. Too early to tell on UDFA impact

The Browns’ roster has 17 undrafted free agents but it remains to be seen if there are any diamond-in-the-rough candidates. Typically, no matter the depth of the roster, one or two will latch onto the 53-man roster and provide an unexpected impact.

Jackson was reluctant to highlight any players from the group when prompted last week.

“I would hate to put a name out there to put one out there,” Jackson said. “Let’s just get these guys to training camp, and I think we will really get to see more of them. In that setting, they will get more reps because of the pads being on.” 

Of note, Desmond Harrison is competing with Shon Coleman and second-round pick Austin Corbett at left tackle. Micah Hannemann and Elijah Campbell are getting repetitions at safety. Evan Berry was a dynamite kickoff returner at Tennessee and could become valuable based on how the play has changed after recent rule adjustments.

The Browns take to the practice fields in Berea.

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