The countdown for Week 1 is officially in the single digits.
Labor Day weekend is upon us, which means we're nine days away from the season-opener in Charlotte. Players are off this weekend before jumping headfirst into preparations against the Panthers, and we're heading into the holiday weekend by answering four of your questions.
How prepared is the team for week one of the regular season against former quarterback Baker Mayfield? - Aidan R., North Olmsted, Ohio
Preparations for Week 1 have been underway since the schedule released in May, but the Browns haven't fully dove into the prep work until this week — and that's normally how Week 1 preparations go across the league.
Browns scouts have been analyzing the Panthers for months. The players and coaches, though, have spent most of the last month in evaluation mode so the 53-man roster can be trimmed and players can settle into their own playbook and schemes. Now that both of those tasks have been achieved, the Browns are fully focused on preparing for the Panthers.
The Browns began using their practice squad players Thursday, and they'll be assigned to mirror the Panthers' offensive and defensive looks as part of the "scout team." Much of that work will be about preparing the defense for Mayfield, and the Browns are obviously already well-acquainted with his strengths and weaknesses from him being their starter the last four years.
Mayfield played twice in the preseason and completed 13 of 22 pass attempts for 134 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Browns will watch every snap the offense took with him under center and see how Panthers head coach Matt Rhule has adapted their offense to fit Mayfield.
And although it might seem easy for the opposite to happen, don't expect the Browns to add much gas to the storyline of them facing their old QB. Sure, it's a story that will dominate the headlines for the week, but they know how important the game already is — and they don't need to add any extra seasoning to it.
"There's no rivalry there between me and him," Myles Garrett said. "There's no rivalry between the Panthers and the Browns. Yes he was here, but it doesn't mean I have an added sense of urgency to get to him. Whatever is in the cards, that's what's in it for me. If I could help my team and put them in the best position to win, I'm going to do that. If I can get a couple sacks along the way, I'd kind of enjoy that, too."
Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the regular season
With the cap hits next year, key players who still may need extensions, losses of some veterans who don't feel they were paid enough, and the slow development of some of our draft picks, is the window for pursuing a Super Bowl closing? Especially with Deshaun Watson missing the first 11 games of the season and with Brissett as our "1st string?" - Elmer L., Bangor, Maine
I wouldn't say the window is closing. Not with Watson locked in as a the QB through 2026, although he'll need to prove he's still capable of producing at the level he did before he was traded to Cleveland when he returns from his 11-game suspension. Watson will have been 699 days removed from his last NFL appearance when he returns in Week 13.
The Browns have several key guys whose future is sealed through the next several years, too. Nick Chubb is locked in through 2024. Garrett was extended through 2026. Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller are each staying in Cleveland through 2025. Denzel Ward was extended through 2027 in the spring. David Njoku was extended through 2025. Extensions for players of that caliber are how you keep a team competitive for a long time.
Sure, a lot of money was given to those guys to make the deals happen, but there aren't many teams around the league set to have that type of foundation for the next few years. Andrew Berry has always maintained that he wanted to build the team through keeping the top players the Browns already had, and he's done that.
It's fair to say, however, that a number of the 24 players he's drafted since 2020 — none of them have been cut since he became GM — will have to step up with a big season this year. Guys like OT Jedrick Wills Jr., WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, DT Jordan Elliott, TE Harrison Bryant, S Grant Delpit and LBs Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Jacob Phillips.
All of them were drafted with the expectation they'd be able to contribute in big ways by 2022. The Browns need big years from most, if not all of them for that Super Bowl window to still feel big for the foreseeable future.
Although the Browns have 5 good RBs why do we not trade one for a good center. It appears to me that is the only thing lacking for a great team. - George L., Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
The Browns believe Ethan Pocic is capable of handling the starting job. He's looked smooth so far since Nick Harris was placed on injured reserve after the first preseason game, and he had a solid season last year with the Seahawks — Pro Football Focus had him at a 67.3 overall grade, and his grade has risen each of the last three years. Pocic had just one penalty and two sacks allowed in 600 snaps in 2021 and has played 57 games with 40 starts.
Pocic was signed to be a quality backup in the event Harris was injured. The Browns obviously didn't anticipate that happening on the second snap of the preseason, but they didn't feel a need to hit a panic button, either, and feel comfortable with Pocic snapping to Jacoby Brissett.
"He's an experienced guy," Joel Bitonio said. "He sits next to me in meetings, so we talk about calls and things like that. He has a lot of experience and did pretty good when he went in (against Jacksonville). I think he's ready for the opportunity."
Now that's a pretty loaded practice squad at first glance! Which names do you predict seeing action the quickest or are these players mostly there in case of injury? I'm assuming they will be practicing with the 53-man roster during the week also. - Philip H., Saint Clairsville
Yep, they'll be out there with the rest of the 53 guys, and the Browns still have two more spots to fill on the practice squad if they wanted to. The limit is 16 players.
Of the 14 guys the Browns signed this week, I think DE Isaac Rochell and TEs Miller Forristall and Zaire Mitchell-Paden have the best shot at playing at some point this season. Rochell impressed in training camp and made the initial 53-man roster before he was cut to make room for QB Kellen Mond. He's the most experienced player on the practice squad, too, with 63 career games.
As for Forristall and Mitchell-Paden, the Browns still have only two tight ends on their 53-man roster. Unless they sign someone else before Week 1, either of those guys could be one of two practice squad players the Browns are allowed to use on game days. A practice squad player can only be called up three times in a season, though, so that plan won't be able to last the whole year.
Most of the other guys are available in case of injuries, although it was interesting to see the Browns move David Moore from offensive guard to defensive tackle as he enters his second NFL season. Here was Stefanski's reasoning for the switch:
"That is something that we have really been talking about for a while. He was a scout team defensive tackle for us – as you know, when you are late in the season, you are kind of kicking guys over – and he was really strong and difficult for our guys to block sometimes. Just felt like at this point it made sense to see what he has over there. He's excited about it. I'm excited about it for him. It's versatility, really, is what it is. He can line up and give us a scout team look when our No. 1 offense is out there, and then when our No. 1 defense is out there, he can kick over to the [scout team] offense and can give you reps, as well."