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7 Browns players to watch 7 days before OTAs begin


A day from now, the Cleveland Browns will have brand new uniforms.

Three weeks from now the Cleveland Browns will have added several new members to the roster through the NFL draft.

In between it all, on April 20, the current Cleveland Browns players will nestle back into the friendly confines of the team facility in Berea for phase one of OTAs – which is conditioning for the most part.

But it still means the NFL is back.

The Browns added several key veterans to the roster through free agency, all of whom raved about their visit with coach Mike Pettine.

But what about some of the younger players on the roster? The months of April and May are where the 20-something backup players can carve out an expanded role if they show they're in better shape and grasping the X's and O's to a graduate degree level.

Here's where seven of them stand a week out from the 2015 season unofficially kicking off.

*DB K'Waun Williams (pictured above)

*Why we're watching K'Waun: *He missed three games with a hamstring injury and was eased into his role as the nickel back last season, but in 341 snaps, Pro Football Focus ranked Williams as the sixth-best cover cornerback in the NFL. Make no mistake: Williams had a fantastic rookie campaign and likely is just getting started. The 5-foot-9 Williams may cross-train some as the outside corner during OTAs for the experience.

QB Connor Shaw


Why we're watching Connor: Let's refresh your memory on Shaw's Week 17 start in Baltimore. The contest was essentially a playoff game for the Ravens, who needed a victory to advance to the postseason. And putting it nicely, Cleveland's offense had been sluggish for more than a month. In his first-ever NFL snaps, Shaw showed poise and a knack for creating chunk yardage plays on the fly. The threat of Shaw's legs also gave breathing room for Terrance West to rush for 94 yards and a touchdown. The Browns ultimately lost the game, but with Shaw at the helm – in Baltimore nonetheless –  Cleveland had control of the game for three quarters. His performance won't be forgotten as No. 9 strolls back into the building.

LB Scott Solomon


*Why we're watching Scott: *For starters, we couldn't keep our eyes off the outside linebacker during the last two games of the season.  An old school bull-rusher off the edge, Solomon bloodied his nose with eight tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles on the road in Carolina and Baltimore after coming over as a 4-3 defensive end from Tampa Bay. Jim O'Neil and the defensive coaching staff are excited to see if they've potentially found a diamond in the rough capable of eclipsing six sacks as a rotational player.

LB Chris Kirksey


*Why we're watching Chris: *O'Neil agreed that Kirksey is flying a bit under the radar after a solid rookie campaign. The inside linebacker's 81 tackles were good for fourth on the team. O'Neil said it was the rookie's progression in knowing where to be in the run game that jumped off the page by the end of the season. Kirksey credits much of his rookie success to his tag-team partner Craig Robertson. The two linebackers will be competing and likely platooning in the middle again in 2015.

WR Taylor Gabriel


Why we're watching Taylor: Behind Andrew Hawkins, the argument can be made Gabriel was Cleveland's second most consistent wide receiver. The feisty 5-foot-8 playmaker out of Abilene Christian isn't scared to block in the run game and isn't scared to make plays. Gabriel finished last season tied for third in the NFL in yards per receptions (17.3), and told us earlier this offseason he plans on doing whatever it takes to earn more playing time in his second season.

OL Michael Bowie


*Why we're watching Bowie: *There was a reason the Seahawks weren’t exactly happy campers when the Browns plucked Bowie from Seattle last September. Bowie doesn't just have starter potential – he already did that for eight games at right tackle in 2013, the year Seattle won the Super Bowl. With his shoulder fully healed, Bowie will compete with Mitchell Schwartz for playing time at right tackle. It very well could be the early favorite for most competitive position battle heading into July's training camp.

WR Rodney Smith


*Why we're watching Smith: *The 25-year-old has only suited up a few times in his career and still doesn't have a career catch. But with a clean slate under offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, there could be some opportunities this spring for the 6-foot-5 Smith to show he still possesses some untapped potential.

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