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Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: Is there an under-the-radar linebacker in the mix?

Football. Real-life football. It awaits in just ONE week.

Browns Live: Training Camp will be the place to be to catch all of the action. Until then, we're tackling five of your questions in the latest installment of the Browns Mailbag.

With the wide open competition at linebacker, I am surprised no one mentions Willie Harvey as a competitor worth watching and potential sleeper. Am I wrong in thinking he has a shot to make the team and compete for significant playing time this year? — Derrick S., Columbus

You're definitely not wrong. The competition at linebacker is wide open, and it goes beyond the starting spots. The Browns will need depth at the position, too. Perhaps most importantly, they'll need linebackers who can play on special teams, and Harvey has already proven he's up to that task.

Undrafted out of Iowa State, Harvey had a strong 2019 preseason but just missed the cut for the initial 53-man roster. After Christian Kirksey's season-ending injury Week 2 against the Jets, Harvey was elevated to the active roster and filled a role on special teams. It was short-lived, however, because of a shoulder injury Harvey suffered on kickoff coverage Week 4 at Baltimore. Harvey's healthy now and squarely in the mix to compete for a spot on the 2020 53-man roster.

Can the Browns discover how to utilize their tight ends, and is there anyone who can play a role like George Kittle to consistently move the chains? Donovan Peoples-Jones could see some action as a tight end type? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia

Let's start with Peoples-Jones. He's a wide receiver and is competing for a spot in that rotation. The Browns have a number of talented options at tight end and likely won't need to convert anyone from a different position at the moment.

As far as utilizing the tight ends, the Browns should be in a very good spot with the addition of Pro Bowler Austin Hooper, the return of a healthy David Njoku and the mix of talent and skills among a group that includes fourth-round rookie Harrison Bryant, Stephen Carlson, Pharaoh Brown and Nate Wieting. Last year in Minnesota, Kevin Stefanski's offense featured a ton of two tight-end looks with Kyle Rudolph and rookie Irv Smith. Both were weapons in the passing game and, perhaps more importantly, vital blockers in the running game. Hooper is coming off a Pro Bowl season that featured multiple career-bests while Njoku has proven to be a top red-zone threat. Quarterback Baker Mayfield likes utilizing his tight ends and has shown that in both of his seasons as Cleveland's starting quarterback, throwing nine of his 22 touchdown passes to the position last year and eight of his 27 in 2018. All of the pieces are in place for the Browns to have a very involved group of tight ends.

With Drew Forbes out of the picture and with the Browns with good cap room, why would we not pick up Larry Warford? The line would be solid. A good running game can help a defense and help the young linebackers get on their feet. The best defense is a good offense. — Joseph C., Geneva

Warford, who has started 101 games over the past seven seasons, would certainly be an enticing option given the Browns' attrition at guard, but the veteran recently announced he won't pursue playing in 2020. He'll be a free agent in 2021.

I understand that the practice squad increased from 10 to 12 players. Do you think an even more expanded roster should be put in place just in case of problems that may arise throughout the year? — Ronald H., Phoenix

The expansion of practice squads from 10 to 12 pre-dated the league's roster adjustments in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, teams will be able to carry up to 16 players on their practice squad, giving them a little extra security in the event of some unexpected attrition throughout the course of the week. Among the 16, the teams can protect as many as four from being signed away to other teams' active rosters. One other pre-pandemic rule change to remember: Teams can promote one or two players from the practice squad to the active roster each week, which essentially expands rosters from 53 to as many as 55 for a given game.

Is Nick Harris the steal of this year's draft? He's quick and uses leverage which makes him ideal for the zone blocking scheme. — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia

The Browns certainly love how Harris fits within the scheme they're looking to run for years to come. They also love Harris as a person and how he played for four years at Washington. He'll be slotted as the likely backup to JC Tretter but also has some experience at guard, where Cleveland is a bit thin at the moment in the wake of three players at the position opting out of the 2020 season.

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