The Browns are off today but the mailbag is on. [
We're tackling five questions on this sunny Friday.
Which receivers do you see getting on the final roster? -- Tyler E., Attica
In Thursday's post-practice press conference, Browns coach Hue Jackson identified the pecking order at wide receiver as one of the more unsettled areas of the team going into the next three preseason games. Behind Kenny Britt, Corey Coleman and Ricardo Louis, there just isn't much clarity.
"I think that is going to unfold," Jackson said. "Who is going to catch the balls and get those balls? I think those questions will be answered within the next three weeks."
The Browns kept six wide receivers at least year's 53-man roster cutdown but aren't obligated to meet that threshold this time around. Running back Duke Johnson Jr. is being used more as a wide receiver and tight ends Seth DeValve and David Njoku line up in spots typically filled by receivers all of the time. Second-year players Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton have been noticeably improved and are often on the end of successful plays on the practice field. Rannell Hall and Jordan Leslie have shown plenty of toughness and versatility. Richard Mullaney was on the receiving end of the longest play of Cleveland's preseason thus far. It's truly wide open for those final couple of spots, and the final three preseason games could play a big part in the decision-making process.
And even after the 53-man rosters are set, the group may not be. Which leads us into our next question ...
Do you see the team adding another veteran receiver before the end of preseason to add more veteran leadership and another target regardless of injuries or not? Thanks for the feedback!! -- James E., Austintown
Roster moves can happen on any day at any moment, but the safer bet is following the league-wide roster cutdowns in a couple of weeks. Without the mandatory decrease from 90 to 75 before the final preseason game, there isn't as much incentive for teams to put fringe roster players on the market before the deadline. When the time comes, though, the market will be flooded, and the Browns have first priority on the waiver wire. There's no guarantee the Browns will add a wide receiver via this route, but they can get their top choice if they like. Last year, Cleveland added five players via waivers the day after roster cuts and three, including DB Briean Boddy-Calhoun, are still with the team today.
Why did we give up our starting MLB in Demario Davis at a position that's kind of thin now to get a third-string safety in Calvin Pryor Sr.? Looks like we would've been better off trading for a WR playmaker on offense. - Craig S., Bridgeport
The Browns aren't in bad shape at middle linebacker by any means. Veteran Tank Carder has embraced the biggest opportunity of his career to land a starting defensive role, and Joe Schobert has emerged as a viable competitor. Schobert was one of Cleveland's standout players in the preseason opener, but Carder remains atop the depth chart at the position. Undrafted rookie Kenneth Olugbode has also shown some strong leadership with the third unit.
As for Pryor, he was hindered a bit by his late arrival but remains in the mix to land an impact spot in Gregg Williams' defense. As Williams said earlier this week, if you make the team, you're going to be counted upon in a defense that rotates players in a flurry of formations.
After the last defensive showing, Briean Boddy-Calhoun seemed to be a player that stood out. What is panning out in a secondary we should expect to support that front seven? -- Terrance C., Galion
There were a lot of question marks about this group during OTAs, but there's been some clarity and stability during training camp thanks to the arrival of Jason McCourty and quick adaptability of rookie Jabrill Peppers.
The top four cornerbacks -- Joe Haden, Jamar Taylor, McCourty and Boddy-Calhoun -- have been rock solid. Undrafted rookie Najee Murray has made a number of plays in recent days and will compete with the likes of Darius Hillary, Marcus Burley and others for one of the final spots in the room. Boddy-Calhoun was around the ball from start to finish at training camp, making it clear it will be tough to keep him off the field in 2017.
"He is similar to Jamar," defensive backs coach DeWayne Walker said. "He is a worker and he has some intangibles. He is a football guy. He studies and he loves to play, that is the main thing. He just loves to play. When you can put all of those things together and just be consistent and not give up plays that you are not supposed to give up, then you are going to see some good plays come out of him."
Despite injuries to two key players -- Ed Reynolds (knee) and Ibraheim Campbell (concussion) -- the Browns safeties appear to be in good shape with Derrick Kindred, Peppers and under-the-radar Justin Currie leading the way. Pryor and undrafted rookie Kai Nacua are also in the mix for spots in a defensive backfield that demands versatility out of its players.
"We have a high confidence in the ability for guys to know what they are doing right now pretty deep into the depth chart," assistant defensive backs coach Jerod Kruse said.
How much do you think Hue will stick to running the ball? I feel it will help open up down field as well as keep a defense honest. We were leading in some rushing categories last year before the injury bug hit the O-line. -- Jacob B., Seville
Jackson has been adamant about his commitment to running the ball in 2017, and the Browns have constructed their roster in a way to make it a clear strength. No matter who is asked, whether it be Jackson, run game coordinator Kirby Wilson or Isaiah Crowell himself, the belief is unanimous that Crowell is poised for a big year. The Browns invested heavily in the interior of their offensive line and proved last year to be an efficient running team when healthy and in position within a game to control the clock with a ground-and-pound approach. Far too often last year the Browns were behind by multiple scores and forced to air it out. With an overall better roster and an improved defense, Cleveland expects those types of situations to be fewer and more far between in 2017.