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Browns Mailbag: How deep are the Browns at defensive back?

Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week

It's a big week ahead for the Browns, who get back on the practice field Tuesday and welcome the Giants on Thursday for the first of two joint practices at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus.

We're getting ourselves ready for the big week by diving headfirst into the Mailbag. It's a four-question Monday.

What's up with all the hamstring injuries? Any news on what's causing all the soft tissue stuff? — Charles C., Sheridan, Wyoming

The Browns do have a handful of players dealing with hamstring injuries at the moment, including DE Myles Garrett, S Ronnie Harrison Jr., S Grant Delpit and WR Anthony Schwartz. It's an unfortunate part of training camp but one that isn't unique to the Browns. No type of offseason training can prepare a player for the rigors of training camp. Teams are much more on top of these issues than they were in years past, but they're still going to happen.

"Obviously, we do not want anybody to get injured, and we try to prevent as many as we can," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said last week. "There is something about playing football, though, where you react and you burst, which is different than training. You can train quite a bit and be in great shape, but then all of the sudden, the ball is in the air and you have to burst for it. That is often times what happens with soft-tissue injuries. It is something that we spend a lot of time on trying to prevent. I would love to tell you that we could prevent all of them; I do not think that is realistic. It is the normal course of training camp, and you have to practice football in order to get ready to play football."

Asked Sunday about the players who are dealing with these injuries, Stefanski was optimistic we could see a few of them back on the field this week.

"I want to get to Tuesday to see exactly where everybody is," Stefanski said. "Use these next days, today and tomorrow, as part of that rehab, but I am optimistic that we will get some guys back."

Is there any real competition for the kicker position? — Jack L., River Grove, Illinois

The Browns wouldn't have two kickers on campus if there weren't a competition. Cody Parkey certainly has the edge in experience — including an impressive 2020 campaign with the Browns under his belt — but Chase McLaughlin has kicked well ever since the Browns claimed him via waivers from the Jets. Both handled their business quite well Saturday, as Parkey made both of his field goal attempts — including a 48-yarder — while McLaughlin made a field goal and both of his extra point attempts.

I like what the Brass has done in our secondary during the offseason but worry about lingering injuries and the durability of some of our guys. The preseason is only three games and is Greedy Williams and Grant Delpit going to see game action before the opener? If not, I hope the four-five back there can gel before we head onto KC. High expectations and injuries unfortunately happen but I worry about our secondary. — Frank M., Grove City

This question was obviously submitted before Saturday but we're still going to tackle it because it's a good one. 

Williams got back on the field for the first time since 2019 on Saturday, playing all of the first quarter and into the second. He held up nicely and made a chasedown tackle on special teams. Williams has had a great camp and is locked into a competition with first-round pick Greg Newsome II for a starting role alongside Denzel Ward. Either way, Williams looks poised to make an impact after missing all of 2020.

As for Delpit, training camp hasn't gone as smoothly because of a hamstring injury. That said, the Browns are hopeful to get him back soon and get him up to speed as quickly as possible. It's unclear if that will mean preseason game action, but there's still time for it to happen.

"He is working hard to get back out there," Stefanski said. "You can't rush that process. When he is ready, he will be out there. Reps are a premium. We all know that. We talk about it all the time. There is no substitute for those reps so when he is ready, he is going to get a bunch of them. It is what you do with those reps that matters, as you all know."

Here's one thing that's a certainty: There's no such thing as too many defensive backs, and that's the mindset Cleveland is taking into 2021. That's why it's important to not only monitor the progress of Ward, Williams, Newsome and Troy Hill, but also the development of some of the team's other cornerbacks who are vying for roster spots. A.J. Green has had a nice training camp and undrafted rookie Kiondre Thomas was playing really well Saturday before he exited with a hamstring injury. The reality of the NFL is you're going to likely have to count on all of the players at the position at some point, and the Browns are working to get the deepest possible group ready for the season.

Living outside Pittsburgh and being a diehard Browns fan for 50-plus years, it has been tough. On the other hand, the game is won upfront with the OLINE. How do you see the depth this year to allow the running game to achieve an average of 25-30 carries a game with 100-plus yards? This opens up the pass where Baker is dangerous with the skilled wide receivers and TEs. — George G., Irwin, Pennsylvania

Saturday night showed the Browns are in pretty good shape from a depth standpoint on the offensive line. None of the projected starters played, but the second and third groups provided a nice pocket for QBs Case Keenum and Kyle Lauletta, and the Browns offense, as a whole, ran a smooth, efficient operation through all four quarters.

At tackle, the Browns returned Chris Hubbard, the veteran who served as a valuable sixth man last season, and saw fourth-rounder James Hudson III make his NFL debut. Hudson played the entire first half at left tackle before switching to right in the third quarter. As a backup in the NFL, Hudson will need to be comfortable on both sides.

"James did a nice job for his first night out there," Stefanski said. "It was not perfect. It was pointed out to him that it was not perfect. (Offensive line) Coach (Bill Callahan) does a great job of being very clear with those guys of what he expects in terms of technique. James had some nice moments and some moments I know he wants back. He played both sides of the line for us. He is somebody who we are going to continue to grow. The kid wants to work, and he really wants to be coached so that is always a good thing."

On the interior, the Browns started Michael Dunn at left guard, Nick Harris at center and Blake Hance at right guard. Drew Forbes and Colby Gossett also got extensive looks at the guard position. Dunn and Hance certainly proved themselves during the playoffs and have had a full offseason to get more comfortable with the system. Forbes and Gossett have been working their way back into the swing of things after opting out of the 2020 season. 

Thanks to having one of the best starting lines in the league, the Browns are in a great spot depth-wise. Ultimately, though, it will make for some tough decisions when rosters are cut to 53.

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