At last, it's game week. We made it, and we're celebrating with four of your questions on this wonderful Friday in Berea.
I haven't heard anything about who the team captains are. Who are they and how are they selected? Also, what are the responsibilities of team captains? — Wally N., Old Brooklyn
This topic came up in Kevin Stefanski's meeting Thursday with reporters. The Browns aren't announcing team captains in the traditional sense. Instead, the team will have one captain per game for its 16 games. Stefanski did not specify whether or not a player could repeat as a captain.
"We do have a leadership committee and we do have a social justice committee," Stefanski said. "My message to the players is you do not need a C on your chest to be a great leader."
Stefanski added he knew who the first game captain would be but had yet to notify the player.
The Browns opener in Baltimore features many matchup skill groups, rookies adapting to their first game, and new coaches in their debut. The Browns could change the tradition with a win? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia
A win would definitely change the recent history for Cleveland in season openers. That much is a given and there's not much else to say on that topic.
Your mentioning of the rookies got me thinking about a quote from Stefanski on Thursday. He was asked about his confidence in Jedrick Wills Jr. handling the first action of his NFL career. The first-round rookie is slated to start at left tackle, and he'll be one of a number of rookies Cleveland will be counting on right from the start after this most unique of offseasons.
"I would tell you, it is the same level of (confidence) for every single one of our rookies," Stefanski said. "They have not played in an NFL game yet. That is just the nature of the beast, and I have not coached an NFL game yet, either."
Along with Wills, the Browns have third-round LB Jacob Phillips — who could be tasked with a big assignment if Mack Wilson can't play — fourth-round TE Harrison Bryant — who is second on the depth chart behind Austin Hooper — fifth-round C Nick Harris — who would start in the event JC Tretter can't play — and sixth-round rookie WR Donovan Peoples-Jones — who figures to have roles in the WR rotation and on special teams — thrust into the action Sunday. The Ravens have a number of rookies, too, including first-round LB Patrick Queen and second-round RB J.K. Dobbins. The bright lights of the NFL will welcome them in a big way Sunday after none went through a single preseason game.
But the playing field, as Stefanski has mentioned repeatedly throughout the offseason, is the same for everyone. There won't be excuses coming from the Browns.
"We are not interested in excuses," Stefanski said. "I do not think anybody wants to hear them, and we are so focused on 2020."
Why not have Jack Conklin be at left tackle and Wills at right where he's used to? Wouldn't it have been easier and faster for the more experienced Conklin to adjust instead of a rookie? — Alan P., Akron
From the very beginning, the Browns have viewed Wills as a left tackle and have not been interested in taking shortcuts. One of the biggest reasons why Wills played right tackle at Alabama was because QB Tua Tagovailoa was left-handed, meaning Wills was the protector of his blind side. The Browns believe Wills can be their left tackle for the long haul and are putting him in a position to learn and grow as he plays. Conklin, meanwhile, has established himself as one of the better right tackles in the NFL. Though he played on the left side in college, Conklin has only been a right tackle at the professional level.
How likely could we see offense of the Browns deploy all five TEs at the same time? — Norman B., Sierra Vista, Arizona
This question was obviously submitted before the Browns reduced this room to four, but we're entertaining it anyways to show just how much Stefanski and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt value the position.
The Browns have four tight ends they believe can help them in a big way this season: Hooper, Bryant, David Njoku and Stephen Carlson. Hooper had a big training camp and is coming off his second straight Pro Bowl. Bryant was a standout performer in camp who elevated to second on the depth chart. Njoku is poised for a bounce-back season and Carlson showed flashes as a rookie last year and is anticipated to carry a bigger role on special teams in 2020.
"We will have packages for each guy," I think David was hampered by a little limitation of injury early on that kind of set him back, and then (TE) Harrison's (Bryant) performance kind of elevated him above him at this point. We are a team that is going to be multiple and versatile so having three tight ends on the field is something you will see from us. We will use all of our personnel, and David will be a big part of that."
In a recent interview, Van Pelt described the tight end position as "the quarterback's best friend." With the current roster structure in place, Baker Mayfield should have plenty of best friends in this year's group.
"He is closest to him more often than not in the route progressions. They are easier throws. They are big targets," Van Pelt said. "Having that rapport, I really think that stands for all our tight ends. Our tight ends have done a great job in this camp all the way down the line of being where they are supposed to be. The more they play together, obviously, the stronger that bond becomes. It is those unwritten, the body language things that you can't really coach and teach, and when two guys get on that same page, and it is tough to stop."