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Browns Mailbag: Does Anthony Schwartz have a future in the return game?

Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week

Labor Day Weekend is upon us, and the Browns are off until Monday.

After years of handling major roster business on this particular weekend, the NFL put a new twist into its schedule by eliminating the final preseason game and bumping up roster cuts a few days earlier. Now, the Browns get a bye weekend of sorts before they get the longest regular season in NFL history started in Kansas City.

We're knocking out three of your questions and then taking one final deep breath before things start getting serious.

Fortunately the Browns have Curtis Weaver on the practice squad. He showed potential in the preseason. How many players are protected on any given week on the practice squad? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia

Teams are able to protect four of their 16 practice squad players per week. It's important to note, however, that every team's practice squad players are available to be signed away to another team's active roster in the period between the final game of the previous week and 4 p.m. on Tuesday of the following week.

As for Weaver, he'll continue to work behind the scenes at the CrossCountry Mortgage Campus. The former fifth-round pick was one of 10 players who spent training camp with the team to return to the practice squad.

"If guys land on another 53, you are happy for them," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Wednesday. "When they do not, you want them to be here because we know them. We feel like we are a big part of their development. I feel like they can get better here. It is great to see a bunch of faces back out here."

With the initial 53 man roster out, what are the Browns plans for the FG kicking position? There will be games where a FG or extra point will decide some close games! — Philip H., Saint Clairsville

The Browns have made it clear the competition isn't over for Chase McLaughlin, who was sharp throughout training camp and in the team's preseason games. He had two misses in the preseason finale, one of which coming on a 56-yard attempt at the end of the first half. McLaughlin's kick was on line but fell just short, hitting the crossbar and bouncing forward. He later missed an extra point attempt in the fourth quarter.

"That is a challenging kick," Stefanski said. "I do not know what the percentage is that you are expecting to make on 56. We wanted to put our field goal unit, not just Chase, the whole unit, in a tough spot – snapper, holder and the entire blocking group. That was a challenge. It was close, but when that three-foot putt does not go in, you do not get to count it. It was a miss, but again, it was just part of the challenge and the evaluation."

On Thursday, the Browns added another kicker to the roster when they signed Chris Naggar to the practice squad. A rookie out of Southern Methodist, Naggar spent part of training camp with the Jets. As a senior, Naggar was the American Athletic Conference's Special Teams Player of the Year after making 17-of-21 field goals and also handling the Mustangs' punting duties.

Will Anthony Schwartz see any work in the return game this year? I could see his speed as a good asset on special teams. — Browns SuperFan, Youngstown

Schwartz certainly has the speed and burst coaches are looking for in the return game. Schwartz just never handled punts or kicks during his time at Auburn. He wanted to, he's said, but it was a coach's decision to go with different players.

Since the Browns selected him in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Schwartz has expressed a desire to get involved on special teams, particularly in the return game. And just as recently as last week, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said Schwartz is "a special athlete who I would love to be our kickoff returner."

Injuries, though, have prevented it from materializing in time for the start of the 2021 season. Schwartz was sidelined for multiple stretches of mandatory minicamp and training camp because of hamstring issues. Schwartz did get some reps in the spring and the early part of training camp, and those were helpful, he said. It's just going to take some more time to get comfortable enough to be in the mix to handle such an important role on game days.

"It is a little tough not being able to get those reps again because it is different than playing receiver," Schwartz said. "You have to be completely comfortable catching kicks. Going back on it, I try to just visualize myself catching kicks when I am watching practice and then when I was able to go back out and practice, I pretty much was right where I left off just being calm, being confident and just building on from there."

For now, the Browns have D'Ernest Johnson, Demetric Felton and Donovan Peoples-Jones in the mix to handle punt and kick returns. As of last week, Priefer said the Browns did not have a clear-cut, No. 1 options at each area.

"Demetric Felton has done a nice job," Priefer said. "We have trained him to be a punt returner, which he did not do in college. We know what Donovan can give us. We know what (RB) D'Ernest can give us. They both are quality return men who can give us what we need on game day. The No. 1 thing we did, and I have said this before, is ball possession last year. We always gave the ball back to the offense, and that is what we have to do this year. That is the most important thing we do, and the rest of it is a bonus to be honest with you."

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