We’re back in the saddle after Nick Shook filled in admirably once again in last week’s edition of the Browns Mailbag.
We’re tackling four of your questions on the eve of Cleveland’s preseason opener.
There are two surprise players emerging from training camp - (G) Eric Kush and (DB) Juston Burris. Can you let us know who these players are and what are their strengths? Steve Wilks complimented Burris and Joe Thomas thinks Eric Kush has outplayed Austin Corbett for RG battle. -- Gurjit S., Rocklin, California
Let’s start with Kush, who has been the first-team right guard in Cleveland’s last three practices. He was one of the Browns’ four first-day signings at the start of free agency, though it’s easy to understand why his acquisition got overshadowed by, say, Odell Beckham Jr. Kush was a sixth-round pick in the 2013 draft -- selected by Browns general John Dorsey in his first season with the Kansas City Chiefs. Since Kush was waived by the Chiefs in Sept. 2015, it’s an understatement to say he’s bounced around the league a bit. The Browns are his seventh team, but he’s coming off his most productive season as a pro, starting seven games and appearing in 15 for the Bears as a left guard and right guard. Of the three players competing at right guard, he has, by far, the most NFL experience. How he’s played in this particular training camp, though, is why he’s been working with the first group most.
“We like Kush. That is why he is here. He needs to string together days,” coach Freddie Kitchens said. “Just like you guys said yesterday, they need to string together days of good days, consistent day. I do not mind not being the best at anything. I just want to know what we are getting when you go out on the field.”
The Browns' roster as of August 7, 2019.
Burris, meanwhile, joined the Browns in November of last year after spending the previous three seasons with the Jets. The former fourth-round pick played cornerback all of his career but has worked primarily as a safety during training camp. He’s made some plays, including a pick-six early in camp, and seems to fit the mold of someone like Jermaine Whitehead, who has seemingly come out of nowhere to earn a first-team spot within a scheme that often uses three safeties. The Browns have a lot of talented safeties, including rookie fourth-rounder Sheldrick Redwine, who often shares the field with Burris. This position switch, though, appears to have given Burris a clearer path to the 53-man roster than he would have seen at cornerback.
How is rookie Mack Wilson’s training camp going? -- John H, Zanesville
If you’ve been following the Browns on any of your favorite social media platforms, you’ve been getting plenty of Wilson highlights. The fifth-round rookie has showed off his athleticism in a number of ways and has been particularly productive against the pass. He made an incredible diving interception Friday, snagged another one at the Orange and Brown Scrimmage on Saturday and had another pick-six Tuesday. He’s mostly worked with the second group behind veterans Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey, but it’s become clear the game is slowing down for him.
“I am not surprised when I do things like that because I know there is always room for improvement,” Wilson said. “I have to come out the next day and try to do the same thing. It is all about being consistent at this level. Therefore, I feel like there is always room for improvement, and I have to come out and work hard every day.”
Where is "Hollywood?!" Have not seen or heard anything about him. Is he hurt? Has he been unimpressive this far? Or, is he just that same steady, reliable set of hands Cleveland needed last year? -- Alan P., Charlotte
I think you nailed it with your last question. Rashard Higgins is healthy and has been productive when the Browns deploy him, whether it be with the first- or second-team offense -- depending on the day, formation, etc. He had a nice touchdown grab Saturday with the second-team offense and has simply been a reliable weapon in the passing game since camp opened.
When the Browns carried the nickname “Kardiac Kids” they lost a close game to the Raiders that came down to the famous Red Right 88 that was a pass toward Ozzie Newsome during the AFC championship game. The kicker for the Browns had a problem with his lower back. Would it be unprecedented to carry a kicker on the practice squad? -- Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia
Though it wouldn’t be common, it certainly wouldn’t be unprecedented. Just last year, a handful of teams had kickers on their practice squad. Matt McCrane, who was signed by the Steelers late last season, spent time on the Cardinals practice squad. Michael Badgely spent time on the Chargers practice squad before he was called up to the active roster. Last season, Philadelphia signed Jake Elliott, then a rookie, off the Bengals’ practice squad, and he’s held down the starting job ever since.