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Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: What will be the makeup of Cleveland's backfield in 2016?

It's a big day in the NFL and a big one for our weekly mailbag.

With an overflow of questions, we selected a diverse five for this week's edition.

I loved watching Duke Johnson last season but felt he was under used. With Hue, I think Duke's skills will be utilized more. Do you think he can be an every-down back with Crowell used more as a backup or still a timeshare backfield? - John C., Perth, Australia

Johnson, like most running backs who are drafted, was an every-down back at the University of Miami and carries the confidence he could do the same in the NFL. At 5-foot-9 and 210 pounds, Johnson showed enough wiggle and enough strength to work his way between the tackles and pick up tough yards. If he were asked to take on that role, I think he'd embrace it and do a fine job.

In an ideal situation, though, Johnson and Crowell would split the load like they did in Cleveland's dominant rushing performance against the 49ers last season. Crowell rushed 20 times for 145 yards and Johnson added 78 yards on 13 attempts. The only thing missing from that game was a big receiving effort from Johnson, but adding to what turned out to be a total of 61 catches in 2015 wasn't necessary on that particular day.

Jackson has been high on Johnson, whom he called "very talented" at last month's Combine, and he's implored Crowell to replicate the kind of performance he notched against San Francisco on a regular basis. Over the past two seasons as Cincinnati offensive coordinator, Jackson utilized the two-man backfield of Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill with plenty of success. He showed a willingness to ride the hot hand and picked his spots when to go with the smasher (Hill) or the dasher (Bernard).

Does that mean the Browns will enter 2016 with the exact same running back group it utilized at the end of 2015? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps no position in the NFL sees more turnover than running back, as teams not only look to get younger but also distribute carries between two or more players to keep them fresh through an entire season. The way Miami used Ricky Williams in 2003 -- 24.5 carries per game -- is largely a thing of the past. That's why even with a young, stable core in place, it's worth keeping an eye on the free agent market and the upcoming draft.

Any chance the Browns draft Myles Jack at No. 2 to play alongside Dansby? Hue could also draw up some plays to get the ball in his hands at RB. - Jim L., Columbus

Conceivably, the only way that happens is if the Browns make a trade down with their No. 2 pick or a trade up with their No. 32 selection. Jack, despite some injury concerns, is probably the top-ranked linebacker in this year's draft and is pegged to be a top 10 pick. The second pick, though, is probably a reach and there's little reason to believe he'll be around at 32. But hey, anything's possible.

Is Connor Shaw still on the roster? And if so, will he have a chance to start? - Howard E., Massillon

Yes, Shaw is still on the roster after missing all of last season with a thumb injury. He'll be given the opportunity to compete with Josh McCown, Austin Davis and whomever else is on the roster when offseason workouts begin next month.

I wonder why any team would waste a first-round pick on any other position than line. No QB or RB should be picked before late second round. - Hayslip L., Columbus

The following players who made the 2016 Pro Bowl beg to differ: Carson Palmer, Teddy Bridgewater, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Doug Martin.

I know it's still early yet, by how does Pryor seem to fit into Coach Jackson's plans? - Gabriel M., Quantico, Virginia

You're right in that it's too early to tell, but Pryor at least ended his 2015 season on a high note when he caught a 42-yard pass in Cleveland's season finale against the Steelers. What will help Pryor in his daunting task of switching positions midway through his NFL career is an entire offseason devoted toward the kind of training required to play wide receiver. He'll be a story to follow as players return to the facility next month for offseason workouts.

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