We're just getting started with training camp with five practices now in the books, and thanks to a well-earned day off for the players, we have some time to answer some mailbag questions. I'm stepping in for Andrew Gribble for this go around, taking your inquiries on a three-question Tuesday. Let's get into it!
Last season, Freddie Kitchens used the "13" (1 RB, 3 TEs, 1 WR) and "31" (3 RBs, 1 TE, 1 WR) offensive personnel groupings more than any other team -- do you think the Browns have increased depth at these positions such that we might expect to see more of these unusual formations this season? -Mike G., Cleveland
In a word, absolutely. Browns general manager John Dorsey built on a tight end group that already had David Njoku and Seth DeValve by going out and signing Demetrius Harris, a former college basketball player Dorsey unearthed during his time in Kansas City. So far, we've seen Harris' inclusion in the offense in two and three tight end sets, and we've also gotten a look at the versatility of tight end/H-back Orson Charles. This team has six tight ends on the roster and it will be difficult to trim it down to four, which is the number I think they'll land at when it comes time to make cuts.
Running back, when healthy, is even more convincing. We all know about the potential of new addition Kareem Hunt and the success of Nick Chubb in his first season, and I'll be the one to tell you Chubb looks even better in 2019. He's been one of the best performers in camp and has been as steady as they come through five practices. Duke Johnson also looks just as good as you'd expect, and we haven't even gotten to Dontrell Hilliard, who has had an excellent offseason that is seamlessly transitioning into training camp. That's four legitimate running backs to work with, and three when Hunt is out due to his suspension. That, right there, is depth.
Check out photos from the fifth day of Browns Camp by team photographer Matt Starkey
Why have the Browns been so unsuccessful at signing their free agent targets, like Thomas, McCoy, and Daniels, these last few months? Is it just money, because I would think players would want to play in Cleveland right now. - Jim F., Little Rock, Arkansas
It's fair to come to that conclusion, but I'll disagree, because I think their visits are enough to demonstrate how far this franchise has come. In previous years, the Browns would have to throw a bank vault at star free agents to get them to come to Cleveland, and it usually would produce underwhelming results. These days, the team snagged a very solid free-agent class headlined by Sheldon Richardson.
The Browns lost out on Gerald McCoy and Mike Daniels because while they could offer legitimate contention and competitive pay, they'd never be able to provide what ultimately mattered most to each free agent: two shots per year at their former teams. McCoy stayed in the NFC South with the Carolina Panthers, and Daniels remained in the NFC North with the Detroit Lions. Unless the NFL realigns (which isn't happening), the Browns weren't going to win that battle.
The fact that those players chose the Browns for a visit, and chose them first should resonate more with you than them ultimately signing elsewhere. That's a massive leap for this franchise.
Do you think the defense can break into the top 10, statistically, this year? I feel the Browns will need to improve dramatically on defense in order to make the playoffs (and if they qualify for the post season, have a chance to make a run). -Craig R., Prescott Valley, Arizona
On paper, the offense was the strength heading into camp, right? Well, Odell Beckham might have been prescient when he spoke last week and chose to rave about the defense because they have looked stellar through five practices. Starting with that front four, this group has caused all sorts of problems for the Browns' highly touted offense. Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi are a heck of a tandem inside, and Myles Garrett has looked better than ever off the edge, which has also helped Olivier Vernon make an impact.
The secondary has played above expectation, too, in part because of Steve Wilks' three-safety looks, which have put defensive backs in advantageous positions to make plays. T.J. Carrie snagged a pick-six over the weekend, and Greedy Williams has come down with a couple interceptions of his own.
The big question is linebacker. Can the Browns play well enough there to stop the run and force the opponent to pass under duress? Sione Takitaki has turned some heads early in camp with the second unit and Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert seem to be benefiting from the improvements up front, staying free of blockers to make tackles. This group has shown the potential to end up in the top 10, but the season will answer your question best.