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Browns Mailbag: What can be expected of Donovan Peoples-Jones?

Four questions for The Fourth.

Let's go.

Do you believe the lack of production by Donovan Peoples-Jones at that school up north is due to the lack of good QB play? If so what are his chances of becoming a quality NFL receiver for our Browns? — Tim K., Marion

It's hard to ignore it when you go through Peoples-Jones' evaluation. Michigan's offense just wasn't very good, and the quarterback play had a lot to do with it. That, of course, will affect the production of a receiver such as Peoples-Jones, who did not post the kind of numbers many expected when he signed with the Wolverines as one of the nation's top prospects.

Peoples-Jones, for what it's worth, did not use it as an excuse, even after he fell to the sixth round in April's NFL Draft.

"It was challenging, but I think he made me better," Peoples-Jones said. "I was able to adjust. I think I am ready for whatever adjustment comes in my future. I am blessed to go through everything that I went through."

The key for Peoples-Jones making an impact as a rookie will center on his quick comprehension of the playbook and maximizing the window he gets at training camp to impress. The Browns are set at the top two positions at wide receiver with Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry but are wide open at the other spots. Peoples-Jones is a rookie, but there isn't that big of a gap experience-wise between him and his competition, so the opportunity is there.

There are some areas he'll need to clean up, too. A wide receiver may not be able to control the quarterback play, but there are always things he can do to personally improve, and the Browns have identified a number of them.

"I think with Donovan, in particular, we would like to see a little bit more consistency in his hands," said Browns scout Colton Chapple. "He makes some extremely acrobatic athletic catches. He kind of makes the hard ones look easy, and then sometimes he makes the easy ones look hard. I think it is more just cleaning that up and just getting a more consistent hands-catcher out of him is an area I think that would benefit both him and our team moving forward."

The Browns have selected Donovan Peoples-Jones in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Hey Andrew, I'm glad to see all of the improvements that have been made both in the front office and on the team. Hopefully this COVID-19 stuff will pass and we can see some football. I've been reading all about these virtual training camps. But I am wondering how effective they will be. There's nothing better than hands on physical training so how will this virtual training work? — Bill W., Arcadia, Florida

The virtual offseason is complete, and now we wait to see what kind of parameters will be in place when the players return for training camp at the end of the month. Obviously, Browns coaches would have preferred to work with the players on the field in a traditional setting, but coach Kevin Stefanski was able to identify some positives that came out of the experience. For one, they were allotted much more meeting time than they would previously get at this time of year. And secondly, Browns coaches continually adapted to their new virtual world, making the experiences better and better as the time unfolded. In the event the team has to utilize these tactics while the players are back in the Berea, the coaches and players will be better prepared to get the most out of these sessions. Stefanski said they're already working through a number of those plans as the days wind down before the start of training camp.

"It was a lot of meeting time, more than you're used to," Stefanski said. "In this case, we had plenty of meeting time and our coaches pulled out all the stops, showed all the video and made it as interactive as humanly possible because it was our job to teach systems on the offensive and defensive side and (Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer) was teaching his system."  

Between free agent right tackle signing Jack Conklin, rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., and new offensive line coach Bill Callahan, which addition to the offensive line group do you anticipate making the most significant impact this season? — Nick D., Wayne, West Virginia

That's a tricky one because all of them will be vitally important to the overall success of the offense. I'm going to take some pressure off the rookie and go with Conklin, whose signing didn't generate quite the number of headlines it was worth because of the Browns' other offseason moves. He is just such a solid addition to the unit and, more importantly, has been at his best in the kind of scheme Stefanski wants to run. His Pro Football Focus grade of 84.6 on wide-zone run blocking over the past two years ranks third among all linemen during that span.

"You talk about a system fit, you could not get a more perfect tackle in free agency than Jack," Callahan said. "He fits the mode for the wide-zone game and his pass protection sets, how he short sets and he jumps at the line of scrimmage, which is a tough skill to acquire. Then of course in third down and later downs, you can watch him set vertically and you can see his variance of sets. He has the toolbox and he has the skillset to do quite well."

We have addressed holes in our offense and defense with the draft and free agency. How is our special teams looking? We good at kicker, punter and returners? Go Browns! — Brooks P., Cincinnati

The Browns are confident in their young kicking battery of Austin Seibert and Jamie Gillan. Both were solid as rookies and will carry higher expectations into their second seasons.

"The thing I've told them is they've made a big mistake. You have proved you can do it and now we're going to expect you to do it more often and be more consistent and be more productive," Priefer said. "We left some points on the field with Austin and we left some big plays on the field with our punter. The good thing is they've made enough plays to encourage you to say, you know what, they can do it."

As for the return game, the Browns will look to improve from their middle-of-the-pack rankings of 2019. Part of the struggles were attributed to blocking, but Priefer is expecting more from the returners, too. Dontrell Hilliard and Tavierre Thomas will be back to compete with the likes of Peoples-Jones, who excelled as a punt returner at Michigan, and JoJo Natson, the former Rams returner who was signed at the start of the league year. The Browns will certainly have some options, and it will be on one or two of the players to seize the opportunity.

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