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Browns Mailbag: How will the WR and TE rooms look by the season opener?

Another day of rest in Berea means another Browns Mailbag.

We're knocking out three of your questions before the team embarks on another four-day stretch of practices.

Now that you can protect four players on the practice squad, would you have three quarterbacks on your 53-man roster? — Mark F., Ashtabula

That's a decision that's above my paygrade but it's one of the many new dynamics general managers around the league will have to consider as they formulate their 53-man rosters. Here are some of the new rules they'll be working with.

  • Practice squad sizes have increased to 16. Initially, the increase was supposed to be to 12, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought on a bigger demand for expanded rosters.
  • Four of those 16 players can be protected, meaning other teams can't be signed away by another team.
  • Six of those 16 players do not have to meet any required maximum of accrued seasons.
  • On game days, teams have the ability to elevate one or two players to the active roster without changing the player's contract status or making a corresponding move. If a team has 48 players active on game day, it must have at least eight offensive linemen among them.

Food for thought: Around this time last year, the Browns opted to keep three quarterbacks on their initial 53-man roster. When Drew Stanton went on injured reserve Week 2, the Browns did not add another quarterback to the active roster and rode it out with just Baker Mayfield and Garrett Gilbert the rest of the way.

Check out up close and personal photos from 2020 Browns Camp presented by Gatorade

Donovan Peoples-Jones, how is he looking so far in camp? — Howard B., Parma Heights

From our vantage point, Peoples-Jones has adjusted nicely to the NFL game. He provides a bigger body and has looked smooth running his routes and catching passes. Perhaps most importantly to what he'll be able to do in 2020, Peoples-Jones is in the thick of a competition to return punts and kicks — something he did at a very high level at Michigan.

"Donovan has been a solid young rookie," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said Monday. "He is still learning how to get it done."

With the Browns now keeping a FB and almost certainly four TEs, is there even a chance to keep six WRs? So who is in the lead for the fifth slot? — Zack W., Avon

This, again, is a question I can't answer at the moment, and the Browns are still conducting heavy evaluations with the time they have — roughly 10 days — before they're required to cut the roster down to 53 players. All that said, I would say you're fairly accurate by saying the Browns will be keeping a fullback because it's an incredibly important part of what Kevin Stefanski wants to accomplish in 2020 and beyond.

"I just think it brings a level of toughness," Stefanski said. "Obviously, I also think there is a versatility to that position, and what you can do with them in the run and the past game. I think it can help dictate certain looks that you want to see from the defense. I just think it is a nice utility piece for us." 

As for the tight ends, the Browns have five very good ones. On top of Austin Hooper and David Njoku, rookie Harrison Bryant has been a stand-out at camp and has filled in nicely for Njoku while he deals with a wrist injury. Pharaoh Brown started six games last season and is valued as a blocker, and Stephen Carlson emerged as a reliable player last year after he was summoned from the practice squad. Paring that group down to four will be a challenge … if that's the number the team opts to keep. We simply don't know how the roster math will work at this stage of the preseason.

"In my opinion, we do have five guys that belong on an NFL field on Sunday," tight ends coach Drew Petzing said. "That is a really unique experience in a tight end room to have. It has been fun to watch. They all have different strengths and things that they do well."

Now to the wide receivers: It's wide open behind Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., though Rashard Higgins put together a very good week and received some nice praise from Van Pelt on Monday.

"Higgins has stepped up," Van Pelt said. "He really has been impressive with his ability to finish plays. He battles right to the end in the run game, and in the pass game, he is getting better each day.

"I would say Higgins right now is the one that to me is really putting the work in. He is really doing a nice job in every phase of the game."

The decisions don't get any easier from there, as a number of these pass-catchers have had good moments throughout camp. We already discussed how Peoples-Jones has been performing. JoJo Natson has been involved in a variety of ways, as the Browns look for ways to take advantage of his speed and quickness on offense and in the return game. KhaDarel Hodge made some big plays before missing a couple of practices for personal reasons. Damion Ratley has proven he can make plays in NFL games but has missed most of camp with a groin injury. D.J. Montgomery, Taywan Taylor, Ja'Marcus Bradley and J’Mon Moore have also had some good moments.

"They are all really just battling for a spot right now," Van Pelt said.

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