Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: How can Donovan Peoples-Jones, other young WRs make a big impact in 2021?

Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week

After you digest this edition of the Browns Mailbag, you'll have just two more to tackle before we've got real life football to watch in Berea.

Let's make it a four-question Friday.

So why aren't Newsome and Schwartz signed yet? I really don't see why this hasn't happened yet due to the fixed rookie pay scale. If they don't sign by the start of training camp, will they be allowed to practice? — Charles C., Sheridan, Wyoming

Patience, patience. There's still plenty of time to get these contracts signed before the start of training camp, and the aforementioned fixed rookie pay scale has eliminated most of the drama that used to envelope teams in late July and into August on an annual basis. Newsome and Schwartz aren't alone as unsigned players, either. There are still a number of players in similar situations, and the expectation is most will get their deals done in the coming weeks.

Should the Browns keep a few extra players from defense on the 53-man roster and have a few extra from offense on the practice squad? Defense seems to sustain more injuries during the year. — Kenneth P., Dorset

That's certainly how it worked out last year, but the constraints of the 53-man roster make it pretty difficult to stack one side of the ball over the other. You'll see a give/take of maybe two to three players but nothing more than that. Of note, though, is the expected flexibility the Browns and the rest of the NFL will continue to have with their practice squads. NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported in May the NFL would likely keep the 16-man practice squads they greenlit for the 2020 season. And with the enhanced ability to have as many as 55 players on the gameday roster, there's plenty of ways to have depth reserved for certain positions that are hit hard by injuries.

I cannot remember Baker Mayfield hardly ever calling a timeout pre-snap last season. If pre-snap timeouts are as rare as I think, is that due to Baker learning a new offense last season, the effective play-calling of Kevin Stefanski or Baker's ability to read defenses? — David M., Lawrenceville, Georgia

I don't have the specific numbers on this, but your suspicions definitely seem to match what I observed throughout the 2020 season. The Browns' timeout usage, in general, was as responsible as it gets, and the team often had its full allotment for two-minute drill scenarios at the end of the first half and fourth quarter. 

When it comes to Mayfield not calling many timeouts before the snap, there's something else to consider: the relative lack of crowd noise the Browns — and every other road team — encountered on a weekly basis throughout the 2020 season. Stefanski has said the Browns never had to use a silent count throughout his first season as head coach. That's expected to change in a big way this season, and the Browns are preparing for it. It was a variable they simply didn't have to account for.

"With the offense in Year 2, we are able to do things and different cadences, whether it be first, second, third down or fourth down for that matter, that we are ahead of where we were last year," Stefanski said. "There are going to be people in the stands this season, God willing, so that means the silent count and some of those different things you have to do are definitely going to show up this year where they did not last year."

Andrew, your thoughts on the young wide receivers as the Browns get Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. ready for the 17 games of the regular season and possible playoffs? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia

The Browns brought almost everyone back on offense, and that included the entire wide receivers room. On top of Landry and Beckham, the Browns have Rashard Higgins back for a sixth season, KhaDarel Hodge for a third and Donovan Peoples-Jones for a second. All three played a pivotal role in filling the void left by Beckham, who missed the second half of the season with a torn ACL. Their opportunities weren't too fruitful when both Landry and Beckham were healthy, but they proved to be ready and willing to step up when called upon. Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt are now fully aware of what the group can handle, and they'll attack the 2021 season knowing the receivers position isn't just strong at the top with arguably one of the best WR tandems in the NFL, but also strong in its depth and options.

"Anytime you have a great athlete, you see a lot of coverage roll to that player," Van Pelt said. "That kind of went away when Odell was injured. That opens it up for other players to be successful. It is not always great to be double teamed all of the time, but sometimes, that is going to happen when you are great. I would expect teams to have to honor Odell, and potentially at times, put two guys on him."

It will be interesting to see what kind of leap Peoples-Jones can make in Year 2 with the Browns. He definitely didn't play like a sixth-rounder last season and was on the receiving end of two of the offense's biggest plays of the year. Mayfield, for starters, has been impressed.

"Donovan looks incredible right now," Mayfield said. "He looks like he is in really, really good shape running around. Obviously, he is a smart guy who we were able to plug and play. He knows his role and exactly what his job is. It is great to have that same group back – the camaraderie in that room and to hit the ground running. We have talked about a lot of things. 

"We grew a lot over the last year, and we are continuing that. It is exciting to have O back obviously after the injury, have an even healthier Jarvis and just have that room all together again."

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