We’re still getting used to the “night life” that is the Browns 2019 schedule, and we’re answering six of your questions to get you ready for another primetime kickoff.
The offense has not been very productive in the first two games. In retrospect, do you think the lack of snaps in the preseason had anything to do with it? -- Bob K., Coventry
That’s been a popular question over the last couple of weeks, but it’s impossible to answer. The theory is that more in-game repetitions makes for a better product when the games start to matter. You practice for a reason, right? But here’s the catch: The Browns weren’t unique at all in how they handled the preseason with their top players. Just look at the team coming to Cleveland on Sunday. The Rams haven’t played any of their top offensive players during the preseason in each of the last two years, and they’ve been just fine over the first two weeks of the season. Now, more than ever, as the Browns deal with a boatload of injuries, is a good reminder that health trumps everything when you’re going through the preseason.
Mack Wilson deserves meaningful defensive snaps, cause he outplayed every linebacker on the roster during training camp! -- Mike C., Birmingham
I very much disagree with the second part of your statement/question, but you’re going to get your wish Sunday. Wilson is poised to see a major elevation in snaps in the wake of Christian Kirksey’s chest injury. Kirksey won’t play Sunday, and it’s unclear when he’ll be back, meaning Wilson is the likeliest option to play next to veteran Joe Schobert in Cleveland’s 4-2-5 setup. Wilson, a fifth-round rookie, had a great preseason, but the Browns entered the season with a clear tier between Schobert and Kirksey and the rest of the group. Now, Wilson will get his chance to make an impact after seeing the field for the first time on defense in last week’s win over the Jets.
This was a popular question throughout the week, and it solicited a variety of answers. I don’t have the hard data on how often this happened, but I don’t think it was an every-down problem. Regardless, it’s something offensive coordinator Todd Monken acknowledged as something the team always looks to avoid unless it is hoping to milk the clock. Keep that in mind when you look back on last week’s game, when the Browns took an early lead against a Jets team that was lacking significant firepower on offense.
“It is getting out of the huddle, getting up to the line of scrimmage, the communication from the quarterback, from the sideline to the skill players getting lined up correctly to if you are doing some things at the line of scrimmage with the skill players,” Monken said. “We do not ask the skill players to look at the clock, so them getting aligned. The defense has something to do with that in terms of what Baker (Mayfield) happens to be seeing. We just know we have to do it better.”
Mayfield said he’d prefer to get the plays off a little quicker and he put the onus on himself to do that.
“I think we can be more efficient just overall,” Mayfield said. “I think with getting more calls that we are comfortable with, I have to be better within the week of giving (Head Coach) Freddie (Kitchens) confidence in what we are calling and what we are doing to where we can just line up there and he can trust us to go do the job, and no matter what he calls I am going to get it done.”
Center JC Tretter said he wasn’t too concerned about the operation Monday, but it’s always a point of emphasis.
“I don’t think we’ve been put in too many situations where it’s hurt us,” Tretter said. “Sometimes it is what it is. It’s a long play, you run down there, the play clock’s already started or something happens. You’ve got to play with what you’re dealt. We’re not worried about it.”
It looks like the Browns will roll with veteran offensive lineman Justin McCray, who played the position in Cleveland’s season opener when the team was in a real pinch. The former Green Bay Packer has been able to catch on quickly with the Browns, who acquired in him a trade before the season, because of his knowledge of Cleveland offensive line coach James Campen’s system. Campen, of course, spent a long time in Green Bay before joining Kitchens’ staff.
“Justin is a pro,” Monken said. “He has played in this league. He played pretty well against the Titans for a guy that just got here that week. I really did. We expect him to play well. With all of our players, you are going to see how the week goes on and where you think you feel like you need to help, but he has been fine.”
In the wake of the injury to David Njoku, the Browns are certainly keeping their options open, but, for this week at least, they’ll roll with what they’ve got. That’ll mean big snaps for the likes of Demetrius Harris, who was on the field for nearly every play Monday after Njoku got hurt, and increased opportunities for Pharaoh Brown and Ricky Seals-Jones, the latter of whom has more of a pass-catching background. Seals-Jones hauled in 34 passes for 343 yards last season with the Cardinals. Kitchens was his tight ends coach in 2017.
“He was young, and he is still relatively young. He is athletic. He can run routes and catches the ball,” Kitchens said. “I like Ricky.”
Every man has a price, and that just might be enough.