PSA: The Browns Mailbag is taking a much-needed vacation after this week’s edition. We’ll be back and better than ever shortly before the start of training camp.
On with the questions!
Competition seems to be the name of the game for every spot on this roster. With that in mind, what will be your most interesting camp battles to watch in training camp? For me it’s LT and strong safety. Go Browns! Earn those helmet stripes! -- Anthony B., Sugar Hill, Georgia
You and I are on the same page with the first two, and I’ve got a few others in the following breakdown of my top five.
1. Left tackle
-- These are massive cleats the Browns are trying to fill, as the team is searching for an answer at the all-important position after the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer Joe Thomas. There was little resolution during OTAs, though Shon Coleman primarily worked with the first team throughout the offseason workout program. Rookie Austin Corbett worked behind him while also getting reps at other spots along the offensive line. A new name was added to the mix last week when the Browns signed Greg Robinson, a former No. 2 overall pick with 48 career starts. The ultimate goal is to get the best five linemen on the field for a position group that promises to be a strength of the team.
-- The Browns appear to be set at their top two receiver spots with Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry, but opportunities abound behind them in a rotation that could go five- or six-deep. It’s a big season for Corey Coleman, who has struggled with consistency and injuries over his first two seasons. He was the primary third option during OTAs, but he’ll continue to compete with rookie Antonio Callaway, Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Jeff Janis and others during training camp.
-- Rookie Denzel Ward created plenty of headlines when he quickly worked his way up to the first team by the third week of OTAs. There’s still plenty to sort out, and training camp will be the proving ground for an almost entirely new group of CBs. T.J. Carrie, E.J. Gaines, Terrance Mitchell all bring starting experience to a competition that will ultimately determine who lines up as the primary outside cornerbacks and who fills in at nickel, dime and more.
-- By the end of training camp, the Browns could very well have new starters at every position in the secondary. That would include Jabrill Peppers, who was Cleveland’s primary free safety but is working at strong safety this year. He’s in the thick of a competition with Derrick Kindred, a third-year player who has more experience at the spot and has impressed coaches with his play inside the box.
-- The Browns will have some legitimate competition at their specialist spots, as Justin Vogel and veteran Britton Colquitt compete at punter while Zane Gonzalez and Ross Martin compete to be Cleveland’s kicker. Vogel was a starter last year in Green Bay but was waived in the wake of the team drafting J.K. Scott in April. Martin, a Solon native, earned a roster spot after participating in the team’s minicamp. He’ll be up against Gonzalez, a former seventh-round pick who had a nice ending to an up-and-down rookie season.
Which part of the schedule appears to be tougher? The home games or the away games? -- Mike S., Durango
The division games cancel each other out, of course, so here’s how it breaks down from a home/road standpoint with the 10 others.
Home: Kansas City, Los Angeles Chargers, New York Jets, Atlanta, Carolina
Away: Denver, Oakland, Houston, Tampa Bay, New Orleans
That’s a tough one. All but one of these teams (sorry Jets) enter the season with legitimate playoff expectations. I’m going to lean toward the road slate being a little more challenging because of the Texans. The Browns are only playing Houston because both teams finished in last place in their respective divisions. The Texans, though, aren’t your typical last-place team, as they were pacing toward the playoffs before quarterback Deshaun Watson went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Our starting DEs look to be very solid if not great with Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah but if they miss time, who can fill their shoes and contribute, not to mention the rotation factor? -- Philip H., St. Clairsville
The Browns have a few reliable options, and it starts with Carl Nassib, who ultimately started 12 games last season because of Garrett’s and Ogbah’s respective injuries. Nassib, who is entering his third season, has gained plenty of experience and is position versatile. He can even play inside.
A free agent signing overlooked by many because of the team’s flurry of moves in March will also play a key role. Chris Smith, who came to Cleveland via Cincinnati, promises to play an integral role in the Browns’ D-end rotation. Like Nassib, he can play inside, and it might just be his most effective place.
Other names to remember: Third-round rookie Chad Thomas, who missed most of OTAs and minicamp with a sports hernia, and former second-round pick Nate Orchard, who is in his second full season as a defensive end after playing linebacker his first two years.