We’re rolling toward the final quarter of the season -- can you believe it’s already here? -- by tackling five of your questions.
Could you update us on rookie Austin Corbett and his progress this season -- Chuck G., Marysville
Corbett, the Browns’ first pick in the second round, is currently dealing with a foot injury that kept him sidelined for last week’s game against the Texans. Corbett spent most of the preseason working as the team’s starting left guard, but a late rise by Desmond Harrison at left tackle allowed the Browns to shift Joel Bitonio back to his natural spot. Now, Greg Robinson is playing left tackle and Corbett, when healthy, remains the Browns’ sixth man of sorts. Typically, that means some work on special teams and a handful of snaps here and there when the Browns roll out their heavy package. He’s among the most versatile of Cleveland’s offensive linemen, able to play both guard positions and center. The latter has been a new endeavor for the former college tackle. He’s spent valuable time behind the scenes working on snapping. He’ll compete at one of the three spots next season.
“He has three very talented players in front of him at the respective left guard, center and right guard positions,” Browns general manager John Dorsey said, referencing Bitonio, center JC Tretter and right guard Kevin Zeitler. “Eventually, his strength is now that he will be able to play everything. When his time comes to get into that lineup, whenever it is, he has to grasp it and take it. Knowing his person, he will grasp it and he will take it.”
Jabrill Peppers came to the Browns with the reputation as a great returner. For the past two years, he has used the fair catch more often than not. Has this been his decision or the coaches? We need to upgrade this position next year. What do you think? -- Jim K., Easton, Maryland
Peppers is fourth in the NFL with 19 fair catches. He’s returned 20. A number of others have been kicked over his head and into the end zone or out of bounds. The vast majority of his fair catches, from my perspective, were the right decision. NFL punters have gotten very, very good at minimizing the impact on punt returners, and Peppers has experienced that plenty throughout his second season. Peppers will be the first to admit punt returning hasn’t come as easy for him as it did at the University of Michigan. Still, he’s been plenty capable and has remained the Browns’ best option at the position. Punt returner is a position on the roster and, as such, it will get the same kind of evaluation as every other one. The goal will be to provide Peppers with more competition and wind up with the best possible option.
I'm stumped as to why Duke is being used so little. I thought he would finally get his touches when Kitchens took over. Nice to not hear anything from special teams now. -- MIke S., East Springfield, Pennsylvania
Johnson has seen his snaps minimized a bit in the past two games, but I wouldn’t read too much into it. The Browns are spreading snaps out more and more among the playmakers on the roster -- 10 different players caught passes Sunday -- and each game plan has differed depending on the matchup. Johnson had two catches for 12 yards on three targets against the Texans. He had another big catch nullified by a penalty. The game plan this week could have much more in store for the versatile running back. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Do you know which position Browns get to pick in next year's draft -- Jason L., Niagara Falls, New York
That’s a fluid situation, obviously, and we won’t know for sure until the regular season comes to a close. If the season ended today, the Browns would pick 11th, right behind the Green Bay Packers, who have the same 4-7-1 record as Cleveland. (The Browns’ strength of schedule is better, which works to your disadvantage when it comes to draft order.) It’d mark the first time Cleveland’s first-round pick is slated outside of the top 10 since 2015 and just the second since 2008. As of today, San Francisco would have the No. 1 pick.
Who do you see the Browns going after in the 2019 free agent market? -- Chris M., Hoschton, Georgia
That’s an impossible question to answer at this juncture, but it’s safe to assume the Browns will again be active. As Dorsey showed in March, there are moves to be made before free agency even begins. You can argue the three biggest non-free agent additions to the roster were all added via trade, as the Browns acquired Jarvis Landry, Damarious Randall and Tyrod Taylor in deals made as the new league year began. The Browns also added a number of players who wound up being starters on this year’s team in traditional free agency. As evidenced by how the team signed and drafted players last year, the Browns will hammer at positions of need in both venues.
When he touted the Browns’ coaching job as one of the league’s most attractive, Dorsey said “the salary cap position we are in right now is great.” That’s a byproduct of what Dorsey inherited, sure, but also a result of shrewd decisions over the past year. The Browns didn’t blow all of their salary cap space in one offseason and now enter 2019 with one of the best situations in the NFL.