Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: What happens when Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams return to field?

With a 1 p.m. game set for Sunday, it’s been a normal week in Berea, which is abnormal compared to what the schedule’s been like so far this season.

We’re answering four of your questions to close it out in style.

Hi Andrew. Do you see Dontrell Hilliard continuing to make admirable supporting contributions in the backfield (and thus increased playing time), especially when Nick Chubb needs a breather?! -- Kit N., Jacksonville, Florida

Hilliard had his best performance of the season Week 4 against the Ravens when he saw the field for 25 snaps, ran the ball six times for 27 yards, caught two passes for 27 yards -- including a big third-down conversion -- and scored his first touchdown of the year. Everything about this game was ideal for the Browns, including the mix and match of Hilliard and Chubb in the backfield. In Weeks 3 and 5, when the Browns offense was off schedule throughout most of the game, Hilliard barely saw the field.

“That is not normal,” offensive coordinator Todd Monken said after the team’s Week 3 loss to the Rams, a game that saw Chubb play all but two snaps. “Moving forward, we would love to have with any position when you have guys to be able to get them in the game and contribute.”

Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Seahawks Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey

When DBs Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams come back do they automatically start? -- Mark R., Seattle

There’s no guarantees in anything, but the assumption would be those guys will return to those starting spots, which have been occupied by T.J. Carrie and Terrance Mitchell in the meantime. Both were playing pretty well before they went down with the injuries that happened within 10 minutes of each other on the practice field in the days leading up to the Browns’ Week 3 matchup with the Rams. Ward is coming off a Pro Bowl rookie season and Williams earned the job after a strong preseason. 

Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks called it a “good problem to have.”

“We are going to address that problem when it happens. I am worrying about right now stopping this run game with the Seahawks,” Wilks said. “We are going to have some issues when they come back. Those guys are performing well, Terrance as well as T.J. Competition is great. That is what we encourage across the board. The better we are from the standpoint of competition, the better we are going to make this defense. We will see exactly where we are once those guys come back into the fold.”

The fact that this is even a question is a testament to how well Carrie and Mitchell have played during their absence. It’s not just a reflection of Carrie and Mitchell; it’s the prime reason why general manager John Dorsey devoted so many resources toward fixing the secondary since he took his post in late 2017. Both Carrie and Mitchell are in their sixth NFL seasons. They entered the year with a combined 114 games played and 63 starts. They’ve been in this situation plenty of times before, and they’ve risen to the occasion like proven professionals.

What has become of Sione Takitaki? After a tremendous amount of hype, where is he? -- Carl R., Cuyahoga Falls

Was there really a tremendous amount of hype? I digress.

Takitaki, who was sidelined throughout a good chunk of training camp with a hamstring injury, is filling a valuable role on special teams while playing behind Joe Schobert at MIKE linebacker. Schobert, if you haven’t been paying attention, is having a heck of a season and doesn’t come off the field. The Browns are primarily using two linebackers, and fellow rookie Mack Wilson is manning the WILL spot previously occupied by veteran Christian Kirksey. That doesn’t leave too many opportunities for Takitaki to contribute on defense at the moment, but it’s very early in his career.

Olivier Vernon was a major offseason acquisition for the Browns and yet I do not hear his name mentioned on Sundays often. With ample opportunity for sacks to be found on our defensive line, how can he get more involved with our defense? -- Benjamin R., Columbus

Through five games, Vernon has 11 tackles and a sack. Those numbers might not jump off the page, but advanced metrics from Pro Football Focus tell a different story of Vernon’s impact. Among all defenders who have logged more than 100 snaps, Vernon has the 58th-best pass rushing grade in the NFL (65.7) and is tied for 43rd with 17 pressures generated. By comparison, Myles Garrett is tied for 27th with 21. Vernon is also 41st in pressure percentage (12.8 percent), just behind the likes of Michael Bennett, Michael Brockers, Vic Beasley and Trey Flowers. Aaron Donald’s pressure percentage is just a tad better at 13.3 percent. Vernon’s win percentage (13.5) is tied with four-time Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan.

All of this is very solid with room to grow as Vernon gets more and more comfortable in the Browns’ scheme.

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