Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: Could Antonio Callaway emerge as the man for Cleveland on punt, kick return?

We’re rolling into the long weekend with five of your questions -- roughly the same number of hot dogs we plan to eat over the next three days.

Are the Browns looking at JT Hassell as a safety? He played LB in college but is only 200 lbs. His 40 time, high-jump, and 3-cone time would have made him the most athletic safety at the combine, beating every other safety in at least two of the three tests. He might be a project, but the numbers say he could help on special teams. -- Tim C., Mentor

First off, Hassell is an incredible story, one we plan to tell at ClevelandBrowns.com very soon. Born with just two fingers on one of his hands, Hassell has overcome the odds at every stop on his way to a free agent deal with the Browns. Not only has he overcome a disability, but he’s also made the rare leap from Division II to the NFL. He’s someone to root for, no doubt. As far as his position goes, Hassell is listed as a safety on Cleveland’s roster and has been spotted playing both of the safety positions at OTAs.

“Every day I feel like I'm against all odds because people are telling me I can't make the NFL. They told me I couldn't play D-1 college. It's just every day,” Hassell said. “That's just fuel to my fire and motivation.”

During the first week of OTAs we heard Jermaine Whitehead was standing out. Was curious your thought of who might fill out the last roster spots in the secondary outside of the projected starters/second string (Ward, Randall, Burnett, Mitchell, Greedy, Carrie, Murray, & Redwine) -- Ryan O., Las Vegas

You’ve got a pretty good list right there. It could be a group that grows as large as 10 and 11 by the time final cuts are made in early September, so there’s room for others to land roster spots. A player to keep in mind when compiling your 53-man projections is Tavierre Thomas, who was on the team all last year and thrives on all special teams. That’s a big factor when it comes to filling those final few spots at cornerback and safety. You’ve got to be a special teams asset while manning those positions.

“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,” Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “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.”

Photos from Wednesday's workouts

Have not seen much on Breshad Perriman. Is he still with the team? -- Mark T., Sanford, N.C.

After a nice bounce-back season with the Browns, Perriman signed a free agent deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Browns will look to replace his deep ball prowess with a handful of other options, most notably Odell Beckham Jr.

Duke Johnson has expressed his love as a receiver. What’s the likelihood once Hunt is eligible he becomes one full-time?  Thanks -- Bill B., Spring City, Tennessee

This question seems to come up every year, and the answer remains the same. Johnson has great ability as a pass-catcher -- perhaps some of the best among all of the running backs in the NFL -- but the Browns view him as just that: a running back. In his latest meeting with reporters Monday, coach Freddie Kitchens reaffirmed his commitment to utilizing as many weapons possible out of the backfield, saying he’d be fine to use as many as four -- that would include Dontrell Hilliard -- if that’s what the personnel dictated.

Priefer identified four candidates when he was asked about this very subject Wednesday: wide receiver Antonio Callaway, wide receiver Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi, running back D’Ernest Johnson and Hilliard. The name to pay attention to here is Callaway, who can be truly dynamic with the ball in his hands. Though he had just five punt returns and eight kick returns in 2018, Callaway logged the team’s longest in both areas. During his freshman season at Florida, Callaway had two punt return touchdowns and added a kick return touchdown in 2016.

"Obviously that's something you can't coach is that speed, that athleticism and that explosion that he has,” Priefer said during an interview earlier this week on Cleveland Browns Daily. “That Alabama touchdown he had, the punt return touchdown was ridiculous. I actually went back and looked at it again Monday just to kind of get me fired up to get him ready to be the return man. We've got guys that want to do it that are going to continue to get better and hopefully we can coach them up and get them ready for the season."

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