Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: What combinations are possible with the D-Line?

Staff writer Anthony Poisal answers your questions every week

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Only three more mailbags (including this one) separate us from now until training camp.

It starts July 27, if you don't have the date of the first practice already circled on your calendar. For those attending the first open practice for fans, that date — July 30 — has probably been circled since the full training camp schedule was released.

We're tackling four of your questions to start this week.

Do you think the Browns might use 3 or 4 defensive ends on the line at the same time in the 2022 season? Do you think they will have more blitz packages in 2022? - Ken P, Dorset, OH

Yes, packages containing more than two defensive ends will certainly be in defensive line coach Chris Kiffin's tool kit this year. It's a combination he loves to throw against opposing offenses if his position group contains edge rushers also capable of playing inside, which he definitely has this year.

We all know the edges will be manned by Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, but either of those guys could be pinched inside when Chase Winovich, or any other DEs, are in the package. Kiffin also believes Alex Wright, a third-round rookie from UAB, can eventually become a player capable of playing inside as well after he garnered some experience in the role in college, and he's itching for him to hit that stage of his development.

"We move a guy like that up (the draft board) because for him to have the ability to do that — slide inside — is a mismatch," Kiffin said. "When you have Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney on the outside, and you can mix him in with some other defensive tackles rushing inside, it just gives us a lot of possibilities in there."

Kiffin loves testing numerous combinations among the D-line, and we'll likely see several looks and creative blitzes throughout the season.

Check exclusive photos of Browns players posing for a team photoshoot

Do you think Jed Wills needs some competition instead of just handing over the most important position on the line? Also how will the loss of Tretter affect the run game? - Chris Jurick, Euclid Ohio

The Browns have plenty of confidence in Wills, even though last season wasn't perfect for the 2020 first-round pick. It didn't need to be — remember, Wills was only 22 and was in his second season of a switch from right to left tackle. He was always going to need a year or two to acclimate.

Improvement, though, will certainly be expected this season. He allowed five sacks and committed four penalties, according to Pro Football Focus, and the Browns believe he's more than capable of taking a big jump.

"I think Jed is right where we need him," Kevin Stefanski said in minicamp. "He has worked extremely hard this offseason. I thought he came back in really, really good shape, so it's just a continuation of that work, and I think he will be right where we need him to be."

As for the loss of Tretter, the Browns appear ready to give Nick Harris the opportunity to prove he's a starter as he enters his third NFL season. Harris, a 2020 fifth-round pick, spent his first two seasons taking a ton of meaningful practice reps. Even though he's only started two games, the Browns believe he's ready to prove in training camp that he can handle all starting duties this season — and that includes upholding the high standards in the run game. He will have competition, however, with Ethan Pocic, a sixth-year veteran signed in free agency.

With Joel Bitonio, Jack Conklin, Wyatt Teller and Wills all set to return, the Browns should have just as potent of a punch from the trenches when they run the ball.

Do you think the Browns should add a veteran run stopper in the middle to offset their small linebackers. - Scott Vanlandingham, Fort Wayne, Indiana

The Browns seem to like who they have in the interior — both on the D-line and at linebacker — although it certainly will be worth watching how that part of the defense holds up during the season if no other roster moves are made.

Two new starters are needed at defensive tackle, and all of the candidates are players who are mostly unproven in big roles. That doesn't mean guys won't step up, though, which is what Kiffin expects to take place in training camp.

At linebacker, the Browns will rely heavily on Anthony Walker Jr. and could use Jacob Phillips with his highest usage yet since he was drafted in the third round in 2020. Sure, that duo and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah might not match the prototypical big build of a linebacker, but that's because the Browns value speed just as much as size at that particular position, so lighter players are the best fit. Walker and Owusu-Koramoah are both as aggressive as they come at the position, and the Browns believe Phillips will be, too, now that he's healthy.

I'm interested in your thoughts on Greedy Williams. Will he make the huge strides this year and if so will the Browns sign him to a second contract or let him walk? - Joseph Walsh, Garrestsville

Williams can definitely take big strides this year, which would be his second consecutive year of doing so after a massive bounce-back season in 2021. He tied Denzel Ward for the team lead with 10 pass breakups and snagged his first two career interceptions, a tremendous way to perform after he missed all of 2020 with a shoulder injury.

He's one of the top cornerbacks on the team, but his spotlight is shared with two other talented corners in Ward and Greg Newsome II. Newsome, though, could take a heavier role in the slot this season, so Williams could play on an even more consistent basis this season and occupy the other outside role opposite of Ward. The Browns always like to retain as many of their own players as possible in free agency, and Williams could certainly put himself in a great position with a big fourth season.

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