It's June, and that means we're TECHNICALLY one turn of the calendar away from 2021 Training Camp in Berea.
Football season truly is just around the corner, and we're continuing to whet the appetite with four of your questions in this week's installment of the Browns Mailbag.
Your thoughts Andrew on the role of each of the three LSU defensive players? - Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia
First things first: It was great to be out on the practice field Wednesday to see the Browns go through an on-field workout in the month of June. It really hit home how much we missed those kinds of things at this time last year. During that session, we got to see all three of the players you're mentioning - LB Jacob Phillips, CB Greedy Williams and S Grant Delpit - out on the field with their teammates. Phillips and Williams, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, were active participants throughout the session while Delpit watched from the sidelines as he nears the finish line in his recovery from a torn Achilles' tendon. Just last week, Delpit said he'd be fully ready for training camp.
"It feels good," Delpit said. "Better every day. It is a long process, a long journey to get fully back healthy, but the plan is to be fully healthy by training camp. I am on track for that."
Delpit figures to be at the center of the Browns' plans at safety, where they're suddenly flush with talent and versatility thanks to last season's emergence of Ronnie Harrison Jr. and the offseason acquisition of John Johnson III, one of the NFL's best at the position. And along with Delpit, there's Sheldrick Redwine, fifth-round pick Richard LeCounte III and a handful of other young, promising players vying for spots in the rotation. The on-field rotation could look significantly different from last year, when the Browns were scrambling just to field two fully healthy safeties for large parts of the schedule. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods has indicated he'd love to use more defensive backs, and that would mean more chances for the Browns to go three-deep at safety.
Phillips, meanwhile, finished his rookie season with a flurry and will be competing for a spot in the linebacker rotation. He delivered his best performance of the year in the Browns' playoff-clinching win over Pittsburgh to close the regular season and shows the kind of traits Cleveland covets at the linebacker position. He definitely enters 2021 with some momentum but will have to earn his spot after the Browns made multiple moves at the position during the offseason, including the second-round selection of Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and fifth-round selection of Tony Fields II.
Then there's Williams, who endured a frustrating 2020 season that never got off the ground because of a lingering shoulder injury that proved to be far more serious than anyone envisioned when he suffered it during the early part of training camp. Though the Browns selected Greg Newsome II with their first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Williams shouldn't be overlooked as a top option at cornerback. Williams earned a starting role as a rookie, beating out the likes of veterans Terrance Mitchell and T.J. Carrie, and started all 12 games in which he was available. He held his own and is looking to build off that promising campaign. He'll just be doing it a year later than he'd hoped but Williams is certainly on the right path as the Browns get closer and closer to training camp.
Since Darrelle Revis was nicknamed "Revis Island" for his ability to shut down No. 1 WRs of opposing teams, can the Browns nickname Denzel Ward, "The Isolation Ward?" - Brent J., Columbus
I love a good nickname, and this one definitely scores high on the creativity scale, but it appears "The Warden" is the front runner in this competition.
We do not hear much about Anthony Walker from the Colts. What we learned about this player is he watches a lot of film the weeks before games and implements ideas to the team. Do you believe a player like that could be an asset to the team? - Kenneth P., Dorset
Walker appears poised to be a major asset to the Browns' defense, and that became even clearer when Kevin Stefanski discussed Wednesday what he'd already seen from the veteran linebacker.
"As advertised," Stefanski said. "You are playing that MIKE linebacker position, you are directing traffic, you are getting everybody lined up and you in a lot of ways are the quarterback of the defense. To see him communicate and to see his leadership on display in these types of settings is very impressive. I think he is the type of guy who we think embodies the type of style of play and the type of person we want in that locker room."
It was clear how much Walker meant to the Colts' locker room when you saw how his former teammates reacted to the news he'd be playing in Cleveland this year. He's a natural leader on and off the field, and he's embracing that role with his new team.
"My No. 1 goal is to help this team win a Super Bowl and the next part of that would be to help us become the No. 1 defense in the NFL and whatever that takes," Walker said. "Whatever happens after that, it is all gravy. At the end of the day, I want to win and that is why Cleveland is the place I chose."
Do you think the Browns will use Anthony Schwartz as a returner or is JoJo Natson tabbed as the kick returner? - Ronald C., Englewood
It's too early to tell who will be in line for either of the jobs, but Natson certainly would be among the favorites. He was the top option at both punt returner and kick returner last year before he suffered a season-ending knee injury Week 3 against Washington. Donovan Peoples-Jones and D'Ernest Johnson helped fill the void the rest of the way, and both players could be in the mix to do the same in 2021.
As for Schwartz, he never received the opportunity to field punts or kicks during his three seasons at Auburn but has expressed a willingness to take on the role in Cleveland.
"At Auburn, they kind of already had their guys when I was coming in so it was kind of just a little bit of depth chart and politics there," Schwartz said. "Kick returner is something that I am definitely interested in doing. I did it in high school so I have that experience, and I feel like I can be a rookie returner in the league."