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Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: What's on the horizon for Browns LBs?

Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week

We bypassed our usual Friday installment for a Monday appetizer of sorts leading into Tuesday's start to mandatory minicamp.

We're tackling four of your queries heading into a big week of football in Berea.

What does the QB room look like from the 3rd stringer to the first in terms of experience and qualifications at this time? — Philip H., Saint Clairsville

The Browns currently have three quarterbacks on the roster. They brought in a couple for tryouts at last month's rookie minicamp but opted not to add any to the 90-man roster. There's still plenty of time to add another to the roster before training camp, but the team was able to function and practice just fine with three on the roster all throughout last year.

It starts at the top, of course, with Baker Mayfield, who is entering his fourth NFL season. He's appeared in 46 games and has started 45 in a row. He's already sixth in franchise history with 11,115 passing yards, fourth with 932 completions and fifth with 75 touchdowns. All three totals are Browns records for a player in his first three seasons.

Then there's Case Keenum, one of the Browns' most experienced players on the entire roster. Keenum has been in the NFL since 2012 and appeared in 69 games along the way. He last started a game in 2019, when he held the role in Washington for half of a season. His best year came in 2017 with Kevin Stefanski in Minnesota, when he threw for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

The least experienced member of the group is Kyle Lauletta, a former fourth-round pick out of Richmond. Lauletta has not seen the field since his rookie season in 2018, when he appeared in two games with the Giants. The Browns signed Lauletta midway through the 2020 season, shortly after Garrett Gilbert was signed off the practice squad by the Cowboys.

Compensatory picks are more than players! How about extra picks with minority position coaches and front office hirings? Browns could get up to a third-round pick like teams last year, right? — Joseph C., Cleveland

You're correct. Just last year, NFL owners approved a proposal that awards teams for developing minority coaches and executives. If a team loses a minority assistant coach or executive to a head coach or general manager position with another team, it receives a third-round compensatory pick for two consecutive drafts. If the team loses two minority coaches or executives to those positions, it receives a third-round compensatory pick for three consecutive drafts.

The 2021 NFL Draft was the first to feature these additional compensatory picks, as the 49ers, Rams, Ravens and Saints each received picks near the end of the third round.

Check out photos of the 2021 Jarvis Landry Celebrity Softball Game at Classic Park Stadium

The best scenario is that the draft picks are able to contribute. The OTAs are for players and coaches to thrive. Who has looked the part and do you notice any undrafted rookies who have long odds? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia

It's early, really early, and we're not going to have a great sense of where the rookies could find a path to immediate playing time until the latter part of training camp and preseason. Even then, what we think in late August may not be what happens when you factor in all of the trials and tribulations that occur during the grind that is the regular season.

Still, this past month or so has been a great opportunity for the Browns' draft picks, particularly first-round CB Greg Newsome and second-round LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who have been able to get some valuable work accomplished with their new team. They were both expected to look the part and have.

"They are all sponges," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "They have been with us since rookie minicamp, and they have gotten incredible attention. They are all doing a nice job. They are all going at their own pace, and we understand that everybody is different. Some guys are spending more time in the book, and some guys are spending extra time out there on the practice field. As you can imagine, I am not going to single anybody out, but I will just tell you, as a class, I have been really pleased with the work those guys are putting in."

As for the undrafted free agents, the Browns signed just five this year. That's as big of a sign as ever that this roster is deep and full of talent, but breakthroughs happen all across the NFL, regardless of a team's depth, so these players should never be ruled out. DT Marvin Wilson (Florida State) was the most notable name of the group, and he's a part of an eight-man position group where the competition is WIDE open. The best four or five will make the team, and Wilson has a chance to prove he's among them over the next couple of months.

"Cream rises to the top," Stefanski said. "I know our team and our veterans are always open to competition. It is what they do every single year. It is what they do every single day. That is how we are going to approach it. To say that these young guys coming in are being given anything, that is not accurate. They have to earn it."

Is the Browns linebacker group a team strength this year? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia

"Strength" is a subjective term, but the Browns are confident the group will be stronger in 2021 than it was in 2020 after an offseason that included the acquisition of a key free agent, two draft picks devoted to the position and the expected development of a young corps of linebackers that returns from last season.

Let's start with the last part: The Browns return, among others, Jacob Phillips, Mack Wilson and Sione Takitaki, all of whom saw significant action throughout last season. Phillips, a third-round rookie last year, battled through an injury during the first part of the season and really shined down the stretch. Takitaki took a big step forward from his 2019 rookie season and tackled a big increase in playing time. Wilson overcame a significant injury in training camp, delivered a handful of plays throughout the season and is expecting much bigger and better things for himself in 2021.

"Now, we have the video to teach off of," linebackers coach Jason Tarver said in an April interview. "It's all of our job together as coaches, players and organizationally to go, 'This is the standard. It needs to look like this.' The closer we get to that, the better we'll play."

The signing of Anthony Walker gives the Browns a solid leader on and off the field and an equally solid producer at the middle linebacker position. Walker, who is among the favorites to be the team's on-field play caller in 2021, racked up 321 tackles over the past three seasons in Indianapolis and has been "as advertised" in terms of leadership, Stefanski said.

"You are playing that MIKE linebacker position, you are directing traffic, you are getting everybody lined up and you in a lot of ways are the quarterback of the defense," Stefanski said. "To see him communicate and to see his leadership on display in these types of settings is very impressive. I think he is the type of guy who we think embodies the type of style of play and the type of person we want in that locker room." 

And then there's the rookies, headlined by Owusu-Koramoah. Browns EVP of Football Operations and GM Andrew Berry jokingly asked if it were a "fever dream" that caused the Browns to not only select a linebacker in the second round, but also do so by trading up within the round. It's clear, though, the Browns are serious about what they believe Owusu-Koramoah can become within their defense, and his versatility could play a pivotal role in getting him on the field in a variety of ways early in his career. Walker said Owusu-Koramoah reminded him of Darius Leonard in his early years. Leonard, of course, is now an all-pro linebacker.

"Just a guy learning how to really understand the game of linebacker rather than just run and hitting," Walker said. "Everybody loves to run and hit as a linebacker, but the NFL game is a little different. You have to start piecing things together and open up your vision a little bit more. He is getting better."

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