The Browns’ summer break is still in full swing, but we’re back in the office and applying extra precautionary layers of sunscreen as we prepare for 2019 training camp. It’s going to be a zoo in Berea, and we’re ready to chronicle absolutely everything that happens.
As part of that preparation, we’re putting each position group under our finest microscope over the next two weeks. This roster is full of star power, sure, but it’s going to take all 53 -- and more -- for the Browns to accomplish their goals.
We’re moving forward with the cornerbacks, a group that has received a much-needed injection of depth and talent over the past two seasons.
Donnie Lewis Jr.
Check out photos of the Browns corners
What we know: Outside of quarterback, it’s hard to find a position group that improved as much as this one did last season. It required a complete overhaul, and no addition was more important than Ward, the No. 4 selection in the 2018 NFL Draft who made an immediate impact with two interceptions in his professional debut and played at a high enough level the rest of the way to earn a Pro Bowl nod. Ward had a lot of effective players around him, too, and the Browns were able to trot out a respectable group each week despite a number of injuries sprinkled throughout the season. One year after looking for players competent enough to start, the Browns, with Ward, Carrie and Mitchell, enter training camp with three bona fide regulars who have proven they can play. The Browns hope to have a couple of more whom they can count upon, and that’s why Cleveland’s general manager, John Dorsey, continued to fill the room with competition throughout the offseason.
What we don’t know: The Browns believe they got a first-round talent in the second round when they traded up to take Williams. The former LSU star has the length and quickness teams covet in their cornerbacks. He also has the swagger and confidence, both of which were on display throughout an offseason workout program that featured plenty of first-team action. The competition between Williams and Mitchell is far from over, though, and it will be one of the true battles set to unfold at training camp. If Williams is ready to be a starter, the Browns will have some legitimate options and depth at their disposal. Could Mitchell kick inside? Could Ward? It’s a good problem to have and a great future to anticipate if the Browns open the season with their second-year Pro Bowler on one side of the field and a rookie who beat out last year’s starter -- who played very well, at that -- on the other.
X-Factor: How the Browns fill out the back end of this room shouldn’t go overlooked. Injuries happen everywhere, but they always seem to hit a little bit harder at cornerback. As Cleveland has experienced too often over the last few years, your defense can find some real trouble if there’s significant dropoff between the starters and backups. E.J. Gaines was the fourth cornerback exiting training camp but found himself in a starting role before the midpoint of the season. Carrie lost a battle with Mitchell for a starting job but found himself guarding All-Pro Julio Jones in Week 10. It will be worth watching if a player like Phillip Gaines, a midseason waiver claim who has 22 career starts, nabs one of those spots or will someone more off the radar, such as Pipkins, rise to the challenge. Whomever the last two cornerbacks are, they’ll have to prove valuable on special teams -- much like Thomas did from start to finish last season.
The biggest number: 0 - That’s how many cornerbacks on the current, 90-man roster were on this team when Dorsey took over in December 2017. The overhaul has been thorough.
Says it all: “He can bend, he runs with ease. He can catch the flash of the ball. He doesn’t have to track it into his hands. He’s smart. He has the ability to recover if he’s beat. He can get out of his hips. There’s nothing he can’t do. He’s longer. People talk about his size, but he’s longer than you think he is, he’s bigger than you think he is. He has the ability to be as good as anybody I’ve coached.” -- pass game coordinator/secondary coach Joe Whitt on Denzel Ward
How many were kept on last year’s initial 53-man roster?: 6