Off-Season Position Analysis

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Browns 2019 training camp preview: Analyzing the special teams

We've reached the week for which we've all been waiting. Training camp opens Thursday.

That means we have just enough time to wrap up our series of camp previews with a final piece on the third phase of football. It's one that many fans hope will be a point of emphasis in Cleveland this season, especially after a few kicks could have produced a better record in 2018.

But that's in the past. We're onto 2019, and we have a couple of positions to sort out.

THE SPECIAL TEAMS

P Britton Colquitt
K Greg Joseph
P Jamie Gillan
K Austin Seibert
LS Charley Hughlett

What we know: We know this team needs a reliable kicker. The Browns very well could have started 2-0 last season had they made just two field goal attempts in key moments, and there were additional instances later in the year in which kicking could've put them over the top. That didn't happen, though, and must improve in 2019. That's why Browns general manager John Dorsey spent a fifth-round pick on Oklahoma kicker Austin Seibert, who will compete with incumbent kicker Greg Joseph for the job. Dorsey also brought in Arkansas Pine-Bluff punter Jamie Gillan to push veteran Britton Colquitt. Nicknamed "The Scottish Hammer" -- he grew up in Inverness, Scotland, aspired to be a rugby star and popped three of the four footballs sent to him for draft training -- Gillan's odds aren't the best, thanks to Colquitt's established reputation in the NFL. He's also learning to hold for kicks, a task punters handle in the NFL that is entirely new to him. But his punting has been solid and he'll get a chance to compete, which is all a player can ask for at this stage … We also know (and should be encouraged by) special teams coordinator Mike Priefer is not afraid to use key offensive or defensive players to fill out his groups in order to make them more effective. This entire staff has emphasized how important it will be to improve special teams -- kicking and covering kicks/punts chief among them -- in 2019, and Priefer has not shied away from the challenge. Head coach Freddie Kitchens places special teams in the middle of practice instead of at the end, emphasizing its importance, and Priefer runs through the periods with spirited command. We know this group will not be an afterthought in 2019.

What we don't know: No NFL team will carry two kickers, meaning one will end up going home at the end of camp. We'll find out who that is about a month from now, but it's the biggest question looming over the entire unit. Also not listed in the player lineup above (because special teams are often a mash-up of players across the roster) but just about as important as the kicking battle is determining who will win the returner job. Dontrell Hilliard appears to have a good chance of winning the gig, but he'll face competition from Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi and D'Ernest Johnson for the role. We don't know who will win either of these battles, but we do know they're important.

Check out photos of the Browns kickers, punters and long snapper

X-factor: Resilience. As a kicker, you're judged by a very small sample size in which you're asked to kick a football through a pretty small window bound by two yellow posts and a matching crossbar. Joseph and Seibert had equal opportunities to kick during OTAs and minicamp and were mostly even. One day, Joseph would outkick Seibert, and vice versa the next. They'll have plenty of eyeballs on them during these practices, which will be subject to the scrutiny of a fan base that is tired of inconsistency at the position. The kickers will need poise and resilience, because they simply won't make every kick attempted. They'll have to move on to the next kick quickly and tune out any noise, because their jobs are on the line.

The biggest number: 76. That's the conversion rate for Browns kickers last season, and also coincidentally the number worn by the franchise's Hall of Fame kicker/lineman Lou "The Toe" Groza. Perhaps the current crop of kickers should look to Groza's likeness on the facade of the team's facility and aspire to be like him, and also to move past the number that is also the address of the building. Seventy-six percent is simply not good enough to win in the NFL. Joseph posted a mark of 85 percent after he joined the Browns mid-season, and whoever wins the job should aim for a similar (or higher) mark.

Says it all: "You have to want it here. They have to be smart enough not to get penalized. They have to obviously have the athleticism necessary to be great on kickoff coverage, punt coverage or whatever corps phase that he is on. We have some really good players here, and we are starting to identify who those players are. Through the rookies, through the veterans -- I did not know this team -- now, I am getting to know these guys and I understand who wants and who does not. The ones who want it, if they don't start on offense or defense, they are going to help us out. The ones that don't want it, if they don't start on offense or defense, they are going to be somewhere else. They are going to be on the street. I think guys understand that. This team has really bought into what we are all about. It starts with our head coach and on down to the rest of the coaches, assistant coaches, coordinators, everybody. The type of player that we want, the type of players that helps us win football games, that is what we are trying to identify as well." - Priefer on finding the best 11 players for special teams

How many were kept on last year's initial 53-man roster?: 3 (kicker, punter, long snapper)

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