Wednesday feels a little like Saturday here at the Cleveland Browns Training Facility.
The Browns went through a closed walk-through this morning and are gearing up for Thursday's preseason opener against the Washington Redskins.
Us? We're still plugging along like we've been since the start of training camp because we know the questions never stop at this time of year.
Does the wide receiver position look stronger than originally thought to be? -- Marcus W., McDermott
On the day before the start of training camp, Brian Hartline made headlines when he gave a particularly strong answer to a question about the doubts surrounding Cleveland's wide receivers. He strongly defended the group, which bulked up its veteran presence with him and Dwayne Bowe, and foreshadowed what's transpired through the first 11 days of training camp.
"The receiving corps, I think, is going to be a tough decision because we have so many guys that can play so many things," Hartline said in July. "A lot of it is going to come down to who is going to play special teams and who is not. That is going to be a big decision that I am glad that I don't have to make."
Led by Hartline, who has been terrific during training camp, the Browns wide receivers have definitely shown off their strength in numbers. Even without Bowe, who is nursing a hamstring injury, the group has been regularly making plays against a Browns secondary dotted with four Pro Bowl players. Andrew Hawkins has been moved all around the field, Taylor Gabriel showed off his speed with a recent deep catch against Joe Haden and a number of unheralded players have made their case for one of the final roster spots. Josh Lenz, in particular, has made a number of plays whenever he gets the opportunity. During a red-zone drill at the end of Tuesday's practice, Lenz, who caught a touchdown at Friday's Orange and Brown scrimmage, got in the end zone three times. Darius Jennings and Shane Wynn have also flashed at times while fourth-round pick Vince Mayle has steadily improved after a slow start to training camp. Terrelle Pryor, who has been out for a week with a hamstring injury, also carries significant intrigue and Marlon Moore is one of the best all-around special teams players on the team.
So, yes, it's a crowded group even after the respective releases of Kevin Cone and Rodney Smith. This is among the good problems the Browns have to address over the next four weeks. Preseason performance will be a vital determining factor.
How many WRs will the Browns keep on the roster once the final cuts are made? - Ivan A.
That's a tough one because every year is different. Last year, the Browns kept five heading into the season opener but knew they'd be getting Moore back for Week 2. So the safe guess is six, but Browns coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer have been adamant that the best 53 players will be kept and they won't pigeonhole themselves with certain numbers for each position group.
With the Browns' 2015 schedule being more difficult than last year's, could they still be considered a better overall team even if they go 4-12 or 5-11 (as most people have them going) this year? - Dan N., North Olmsted
I'll give this the old yes and no answer.
Yes, the Browns could be a much better football team this year even if they match or fall just short of their 7-9 mark from 2014. There are many different forms of 7-9, and the Browns reached theirs in a far-from-desirable way by losing five straight to end the season. Alas, as Pettine often says, football is a bottom-line business. So, even if the Browns feel and play like a better football team, that won't ease the pain that comes with falling short of a goal, and the Browns have much higher goals than 7-9 for 2015.
Are you worried about the injuries already on your players before the season even started and do you feel we have the replacements and talent needed to make this year our best year? - Kirk K., Hinckley
I'd be worried if the Browns were facing a number of injuries that were expected to stretch into the regular season. At this point, that's not a concern, so I think the Browns are currently weathering a stretch of bumps and bruises that will have an impact on some of their preseason lineups. For players such as Duke Johnson Jr. and Pryor, it'd certainly be better if they can get back on the field sooner rather than later in order for the coaches to determine what exactly they have in the two playmakers.
Is it realistic to think that the coaching staff would want to get Phil Taylor and Danny Shelton on the field at the same time? - Doc M., Ormond Beach, Fla.
Situationally, we've already seen Shelton and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen on the practice field at the same time, so it wouldn't surprise us if there's a package or two for the massive nose tackles. On most plays, though, you can expect just one of them lined up in the middle of the defensive line.