Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: Should there be concern about the running game after 1 preseason game?

We’re rolling on a Saturday with five of your questions before the Browns return to practice Sunday.

Who the heck is DB Jeremiah McKinnon and why am I so impressed by him? -- Kevin A., Cleveland

You’re not alone.

McKinnon came to the Browns shortly after the start of training camp in a wave of signings to get the roster back up to 90 players. He didn’t waste any time asserting himself on the field, showing little fear in one-on-one matchups against the team’s receivers. At one practice in particular, McKinnon riled up his teammates with his aggressive, effective play. It carried over to the game Thursday, and yes, we’re aware he was officially flagged for pass interference. From the looks of it, Cleveland’s sidelines very much believed McKinnon played the ball correctly. Signed by the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent out of Florida International, McKinnon, who spent time on practice squads the past two seasons, has yet to see the field for a regular season game. If he wants that to change with the Browns, he’ll have to keep up this level of play in his pursuit for one of the final spots in Cleveland’s cornerbacks room.

It all depends what general manager John Dorsey and his personnel staff see when the team works out a number of wide receivers in the coming week. When the team held a big workout shortly before the start of training camp, it wound up signing four players whose experience ranged from players straight out of college to one who’d been in the NFL since 2012. It’s all about what they see in the workout.

No position group on Cleveland’s roster appears to be more in flux than wide receiver, but the Browns had to feel good about what they saw from Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins in Thursday’s preseason opener. It’s unclear when Josh Gordon will return to the team, but other players, such as Damion Ratley, C.J. Board and Da’Mari Scott, have flashed potential throughout the offseason. The pool of free agent veteran receivers is pretty slim at the moment because the vast, vast majority of players teams believe can contribute in 2018 are already signed to rosters. Still, there’s a chance Dorsey and Co. can spot someone they believe can fill a void and be an immediate help to this year’s roster.

Mychal Kendricks has had a great camp and made the most of his snaps Thursday, picking up his first sack as a Brown when he burst through the line and dropped Eli Manning to force a punt. I wouldn’t read too much into the current depth chart; the Browns have four very good linebackers, and all four are set to have major roles on this year’s defense. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams mixes and matches his players so much, it’s a fruitless exercise to call certain players first- or second-teamers. Kendricks played Thursday with the majority of the starting defense, and that’s what I’d expect him to continue doing when the season begins -- no matter where he’s listed on the depth chart.

Excited about the best QB situation the Browns have had since returning home, but with the major investment in the RBs, I'm curious how they couldn't run the ball with an OL built to run? -- RJ M., Salt Lake City, Utah

I’m not here to provide excuses, but I’ve got a handful of reasons why the Browns running attack simply wasn’t good Thursday against the Giants.

  • The first-team offensive line played eight snaps. The team attempted just two runs during that time, losing a yard on a Carlos Hyde carry and gaining 3 on a Duke Johnson run to start the second series. Tyrod Taylor scrambled for 2 yards on a play that was initially designed to be through the air. That’s a very small sample size.
  • That first-team offensive line was without right guard Kevin Zeitler, who is out with a calf injury. Zeitler is very, very good and tough to replace.
  • Joel Bitonio is no longer the left guard, and Austin Corbett, a tackle in college, was experiencing his first NFL action at left guard. Corbett played with both the first- and second-team offense, getting more snaps than just about everybody in the process. He’ll get better.
  • Nick Chubb took every one of his carries behind the second-team offensive line. He had 15 carries for just 11 yards but somehow had 26 yards after first contact. That means there was little room for the second-round pick to run.

“Obviously, we have to run the ball better overall,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “I didn’t think we got out behind our pads and pushed like I think we can, so that’s still a work in progress and we will work through that.”

It’s unclear when Zeitler will return to the lineup, but Friday’s game against the Bills could provide the first group with more opportunities to establish a running game the team believes will be essential for overall offensive success in 2018.

Who are the dark horses to make the 53-man roster at each position? -- Brent H., Cambridge

I don’t know if I can deliver one for every position, but here are a handful who have caught our eyes after two-plus weeks of training camp: TE Devon Cajuste, WR C.J. Board, DL Jeremy Faulk, LB Justin Currie, DB Denzel Rice and DB Jeremiah McKinnon

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