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Browns Mailbag: What can be expected from David Njoku in his 2nd season?

The first full week of Browns summer vacation is nearly complete, and we’re wrapping it up with four of your questions.

With the drafting of Denzel Ward and signings of T.J. Carrie and Damarious Randall added to Derrick Kindred and Jabrill Peppers, what do you see as our secondary and the roles each of these players play? -- Tyler B., Belgium

The facelift was significant in Cleveland’s secondary, and the Browns are looking at a completely new group of starters at each position. That, of course, factors in the position switch Peppers is making from free safety to strong safety.

It’s too early to lock anyone into a specific starting spot, but the Browns wrapped up minicamp with Ward and Carrie at the two outside cornerback spots, Randall at free safety and a mix of Peppers and Kindred at strong safety. Briean Boddy-Calhoun took repetitions at nickel and free safety. Terrance Mitchell and E.J. Gaines, both of whom were starters for their respective former teams, are competing for multiple positions and figure to have some kind of role one way or the other. A slew of others, including sixth-round pick Simeon Thomas and Denzel Rice -- who has bounced around the NFL since 2015 -- are fighting for spots in the new-look defensive backs room.

“I think that (General Manager) John Dorsey and his group have done a very good job of increasing the competition,” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said. “Competition makes us all better. There is a lot of newness there. That area is probably the one that we are spending a lot of extra time with.”

When they talked last week, it was clear Browns coaches really like the competition between Kindred and Peppers. Assistant defensive backs coach Jerod Kruse, who works heavily with the safeties, said Kindred, a third-year veteran, was “one of the best inside box players around the ball safeties that I’ve seen.” The job won’t be handed to Peppers, though Hue Jackson made it clear he expects big things from the former first-round pick in his second season.

“Jabrill, I think, is going to have a sensational season. I really do,” Jackson said. “He is working hard. He has been very vocal back there. But Derrick Kindred is not going to just give it away, so it is going to be fun to see.”

Given the Browns offensive tackle situation, what’s the probability that Desmond Harrison starts at one of the tackle spots or will he not get a real chance to being fight for the LT spot due to being a UDFA? -- Miles D., Dayton

Let’s make it clear: Where a person is drafted or not drafted stops mattering the moment they hit the practice field. Harrison went undrafted out of West Georgia but the Browns are clearly high on his potential. He’s in the thick of a competition at left tackle that appears to be led by Shon Coleman but is by no means finalized. He’ll have an opportunity when training camp begins, as Cleveland looks to lock down it’s best possible offensive line.

“Desmond is probably the smoothest athlete we have,” offensive line coach Bob Wylie said. “His thing is he has to do it mentally. He’s got to learn how to play like a pro.”

I hear a lot about our wide receivers and running backs and nothing about tight end, David Njoku. Why is he being left out of the picture? It seems to me that with all the talent the Browns have accumulated, Njoku would have a great opportunity to be a vital piece of the offense. -- Dave M., New Smyrna, Florida

You’re correct in that Njoku figures to be a vital piece of the Browns’ offense. All three of Cleveland’s main tight ends, a group that also includes Seth DeValve and Darren Fells, will present a threat to opposing defenses on every snap. Njoku, the former first-round pick who caught 32 passes for 386 yards and four touchdowns, has tremendous upside and displayed it throughout OTAs and minicamp. His ability to take a short catch for big yards might just be his most dangerous asset.

“I think that he is making the jump,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “We will not know much about that until the pads come on. I think for a young player that plays that kind of position week in and week out of blocking those outside linebackers and defensive ends, you wear down towards the end of the year. If anything I can say for David, that is what I saw. Just the grind of playing a lot of football, a lot of minutes, that you look back and say, ‘Wow, this was tough.’ I think that in Year 2, I expect to see a huge jump. He is very athletic. He can catch and run. He is going to be one of our playmakers.”

How does the NFL figure out the schedule? I thought the team with the worst record usually got an easier schedule the following year. Reading some of the articles, I have seen the strength of schedule as high as fifth. What is the logic behind the scheduling? -- Tim L., Vine Grove, Kentucky

It’s pretty cut and dry, and there’s an unfortunate reason why the Browns have the fifth-toughest schedule.

Teams within a division play each other twice. That adds up to six games. Then there’s a rotation of divisions that every team plays. This year, every team in the AFC North will play every team in the AFC West and NFC South. That gets you to 14 games. The final two are decided in a fashion that conceivably makes things a little easier on a team like the Browns, who get paired up with the teams from the remaining two AFC divisions -- East and South -- that finished in the same place they did in 2017. That means the Browns are facing the Jets and Texans while the Steelers, who finished in first place, draw the Patriots and Jaguars. It helps make Cleveland’s schedule a little easier on paper. But the real reason why the Browns have a perceivably tougher schedule than the rest of their division counterparts is because the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals each get the Browns’ 0-16 finish factored into their overall strength of schedule ranking while Cleveland doesn’t.

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