By this time next week, we’ll be wrapping up the second practice of Browns training camp.
Where did the offseason go?
That’s not worth answering at the moment, but the following four questions certainly are.
If Austin Corbett is a backup center heading into the season, can we declare him a bust? If you can’t replace Joe T, Kevin Zeitler, or JC Tretter, what value does the former high second-round pick have? -- Gurjit S., Rocklin, California
That kind of declaration would be premature and short-sighted. Looking back at last year, it shouldn’t be viewed as a knock on Corbett for not being able to snag a starting spot on the offensive line. He wasn’t projected by many to be a tackle in the NFL, so that left three potential spots -- all of which were completely new to him. To land one of the two guard spots, he would have needed to beat out Joel Bitonio, a Pro Bowler, and Zeitler, who is considered by many as one of the best guards in the league. Tretter was a returning starter with years of experience at one of the most complex positions on the football field, and he followed with a great season.
“I think he was making growth in the 2018 season,” Browns general manager John Dorsey said of Corbett in April. “Every day when you see him working at his craft, I think that he is going to make tremendous strides here in the 2019 season. Nothing is given in this thing, but he is going to sit and compete. I am sure that he is one of those guys that is going to stand up to the challenge.”
The key part of that quote is the last sentence. The Browns aren’t handing Corbett anything. That’s why he’s one of three players, joining Kyle Kalis and Eric Kush , who received first-team repetitions at right guard during the spring. There’s been a lot of unnecessary handwringing among Browns fans about this setup, in my opinion. Had the Browns just handed the job to Corbett, you tell the rest of your roster that draft status matters more than true competition. With offensive line, it’s impossible to get a true look at who’s the best man for the job until the pads come on. That will unfold a few days into training camp, so I’d expect this kind of setup to continue through the first part of training camp.
"They are entrusting me and opening this spot up for me and now I have to go and show and prove them right that this is why they drafted me,” Corbett said in May. “I've got to go make it happen. It's all on me, there's no one else. If I don't get the starting job, it's my fault that I didn't do well. And if I do, that means I'm stepping up and I've got to keep showing them that."
Check out photos of Browns wide receivers
Who was the last walk-on to make the team? -- Jeffrey D., Chippewa Lake
Can I introduce you to the starting quarterback? His name is Baker Mayfield and he was a walk-on not just once, but twice during his five-year college career, which culminated with endless statistical records and a Heisman trophy. There’s also Joe Schobert, Cleveland’s Pro Bowl linebacker who began his Wisconsin career as a walk-on. According to a Chicago Tribune feature, Schobert was so off-the-radar during his recruitment that he nearly walked on at North Dakota before veering to Wisconsin. The most recent acquisition who falls into this category is wide receiver Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi, who was a walk-on at a junior college before bluffing his way into a spring tryout with the team.
Since we don't have a true fullback, how many tight ends will we carry on the final 53-man roster? -- Barry, Parma
The typical number has been four but that can vary based on how the other position groups shake out. Some years that counts a fullback and some years it doesn’t. Among this year’s group, Orson Charles is the only one with some true fullback experience, but he’s built more like a traditional, blocking tight end. Cleveland has some quality depth at the position thanks to the offseason addition of Demetrius Harris, who could really thrive in an expanded role. David Njoku is an ascending player who could very well be a top-5 tight end in terms of receiving numbers at the end of the season. Seth DeValve has some significant experience and has proved to be valuable when healthy and Pharaoh Brown is a big body who appears to be even bigger after the offseason. There will be some tough decisions to make at this position when the preseason comes to a close.
Earlier this week, former NFL wide receiver James Jones ranked the best wide receiver duos in the NFL and concluded the tandem of Beckham and Landry was the best. On Cleveland Browns Daily the following day, I posited that the Browns didn’t have the best trio in the NFL, but did have the best four-man group because of the immense upside presented by Callaway and the reliability of Higgins, who really thrived last year with Mayfield as the quarterback. I’ll stand by that in this space with the caveat that we first need to see how this group produces when the games start to matter before making such declarations.
When it comes to the rest of Jones’ list, I think Cleveland’s group is the clear, runaway favorite but I also like the makeup of the Chargers, who have former Brown Travis Benjamin manning the No. 3 spot, and the Rams, who probably have the best trio of receivers in the NFL with Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. The Falcons probably boast the second-best trio with Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu and make the strongest case for best quadruplets behind the Browns when you add Justin Hardy to the mix. Within the AFC North, the Bengals, with A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd leading the way, probably boast the most receiver depth behind the Browns. In the NFC, I like what the Eagles have with Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor and rookie JJ Arcega-Whiteside. The Bears lack some star power but have a strength-in-numbers approach with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Cordarelle Patterson and rookie Riley Ridley.
It’s just safe to say the Browns look pretty darn good on paper at the receiver position after years and years of ranking near the bottom in these kinds of distinctions.