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Browns Mailbag: How will no preseason games affect roster evaluation?

Three questions to close out the month of July. 

A busy August awaits...

I was surprised that Drew Forbes opted out for the season. I believe in letting him make his own choices and I am not doubting his choice, but he should have been in the running for the starting RG spot and minimally a valued backup. Do the Browns need to search for depth at G or do they have enough quality depth to get a good starter and backup from the existing roster? — Jim C., Centerville

When Forbes was on the active roster, the Browns were confident they had a number of players in-house who could compete and provide a good starting option to fill out the offensive line. That's still likely the case even without Forbes, who announced his decision to opt out for the season Wednesday. Wyatt Teller and Colby Gossett have both started games at the position, and Teller was the starter for most of the second half of the 2019 season. Willie Wright has been with the team since May 2019, and fifth-rounder Nick Harris may be best-suited to play center, but has years of experience at guard.

The Browns could certainly add some bodies to the group in the coming days and weeks. That's common in training camp, even in a unique one like this. Either way, the competition will roll on.

"There should be competition at a lot of positions. That is the fun part of training camp," Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski said Thursday. "I think our guys are eager to compete. Drew made a decision. I respect his decision. It is the 'next man up' mentality. We will see how it all shakes out."

Check out photos of the rookies and quarterbacks working out Thursday

It was announced that the NFL will no longer have preseason games this year. What is our biggest concern with the absence of these exhibition games? — Brooks P., Cincinnati

The practices are ultimately the most important part of the evaluation during August because there are more of them and coaches can create and control situations to get specific evaluations of their players. That said, there's something to seeing how a player responds under the bright lights and against a foe they've never seen before. Each year, there always seems to be a player or two who hums under the radar on the practice field and breaks out in the first or second preseason game. Just a few years ago, Isaiah Crowell locked down a spot on the active roster with a breakout performance in the team's preseason finale. So the games do matter, and the NFL will get back to playing them once it's safe.

Simply put, it will just be one less opportunity for players on the fringe to impress, but Stefanski stressed it will be on the coaches to create more game-like situations on the practice field. That makes how the players perform in practices even more important toward landing a spot on the final roster.

"You have to have a plan for all this," Stefanski said. "Missing the preseason games, sure, [preseason games are] an opportunity for players and it is an opportunity for our fans to get in the building and see these players. It is definitely unique. I think it is our job to create as many moments in training camp and as many times we can in practice to mimic game-like settings and put the players in some situational football so that we do not lose those four games."

What can be expected from the one-year contract free agents on the defense? Have they done enough in player development to repeat last year's early season victory over the Ravens? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia

The next month will be so important for these players to get up to speed, but they've received plenty of positive reviews for their engagement in the offseason program. The Browns filled some of their biggest areas of weakness on defense with these kinds of players, most notably at safety with the additions of Karl Joseph and Andrew Sendejo. Both feasibly could be on the field for the first snap of the season in Baltimore. Kevin Johnson could be a top option at nickel. Andrew Billings is poised to play an important role on the defensive line. LB B.J. Goodson will be competing for a starting spot in the middle of the Browns' defense. How they adapt and mesh with their teammates over the next few weeks will be vital toward the success of Cleveland's defense, which should be much improved from the final product we saw last season following a variety of injuries, suspensions and transactions.

"A lot of these guys may not be the biggest names, but I just know when you are putting a system together, you are looking for systematic fits," Stefanski said. "I think that is what we've done so far on offense and defense. Particularly, I think we have added a few guys that fit our scheme that have some versatility. 

"In the back end, you have guys that can play down safety, post safety and nickel. There is some versatility to the guys that we have added, which is really important when you are putting a new scheme together because there will be some moving parts making sure that you have everybody where you need them."

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