April is flying by at the Cleveland Browns facility in Berea.
At this time last year, players weren't even back yet for their first offseason workouts. This year, the Browns are already in their second week and have their eyes set on next week's voluntary minicamp.
And oh, by the way, the draft is 15 days away.
Only two-thirds of this week's questions pertain to the event that will captivate us all at the end of the month.
A couple of weeks ago, we identified four players who faced big opportunities in light of the moves made in free agency. This question is similar on the surface but a little different when you dig deeper. There are changes in responsibility and then there are changes in performance. The latter can come without a change in the former, and those are the kind of players we're identifying for this question.
We came up with four.
RB Duke Johnson - What's often forgotten about Johnson's rookie season is the fact he missed most of training camp with first, a hamstring injury and second, a concussion. That preceded a relatively slow start for the third-round pick, who didn't catch his first pass until Week 3 against Oakland. He wound up with a whopping 61 receptions for 534 yards and two touchdowns, a commendable first season for any pass-catcher, let alone one who is classified as a running back like Johnson is. Hue Jackson has been high on Johnson ever since some of his first interviews as Browns head coach. Johnson has drawn comparisons to Bengals running back Giovani Bernard, who split carries with Jeremy Hill but what differed between the Bengals' duo and Cleveland's duo of Isaiah Crowell and Johnson was Cincinnati's ability to ride the hot hand and maximize matchups. Johnson has high expectations for himself in Year 2, and he's certainly a player to watch as Cleveland's offense comes together.
DL Danny Shelton - Cleveland's first-round pick in 2015, Shelton was a main cog on Cleveland's defensive line and held his own, starting all but one game and finishing the season with 36 tackles. The key for Shelton in Year 2 will be his ability to stay on the field for all three downs. That was a major point emphasized by defensive coordinator Ray Horton in February, and Shelton has been working hard throughout a busy offseason to make it happen. "He is going to be a big part of our plans," Horton said. "Obviously, he was our No. 1 draft pick last year, and we want to utilize his talent."
OL Joel Bitonio - The third-year offensive lineman was left with a realization upon seeing Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz depart in free agency. He's quickly gone from one of the youngest players on the offensive line to one of the veteran voices, and that's had an effect on Cleveland's left guard. Bitonio was graded by Pro Football Focus as one of the league's best guards in 2014, and he was named to NFL.com's All-Under 25 team following a second season that was short-circuited by an ankle injury. Bitonio isn't quite sure he'll remain at left guard in light of Cleveland's offseason departures, but it's clear he'll be a key part in the Browns' front five. If Bitonio can bounce back to a level of play that even exceeds how he played as a rookie, he'll be playing at a level that makes everyone around him better.
LB Demario Davis - Davis didn't miss a game in his four seasons with the Jets. He put up big tackle numbers in his second and third years before seeing his playing time dip a bit in 2015. That's what makes the Browns and Davis a nice match. Cleveland needed a reliable thumper in the middle of its defense, and Davis needed a fresh start in an environment that can maximize his potential. Davis, at 27, is entering his prime, and he feels comfortable he can not only produce, but also lead from the middle of Cleveland's defense. "I am excited about the opportunity that is in front of me, and everything that I have done before, it doesn't matter," he said.
Take a look at the Cleveland Browns roster as of September 1, 2017.
Why aren't we looking into Braxton Miller or other taller and faster wide receivers? All of our route runner are either short except for Gary Barnidge. We need taller guys who can jump over taller safeties or players. We can't do much with small guys when we have built up our quarterbacks and tight ends. -- Spencer J., Reno, Nevada
Who says the Browns aren't looking into Miller or other taller, faster wide receivers? Jackson has made no bones about his expectations for Cleveland's receivers, and Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown highlighted this exact position in a recent interview on Cleveland Browns Daily. "I think what we lacked last year in terms of production was a little bit of what Miles (Austin) brought in small doses the year before," Brown said. "The ability to make the contested catch, move the chains on third down when you need a guy to make a play for you."
I really thought Jacob Coker of Alabama did a good job this year. Great size. Why aren't we looking at him? Seems like a good fit. -- Robert R., Brownwood, Texas
Coker was a surprise snub from February's NFL Combine, especially after a decent showing at the Senior Bowl. The national championship winning quarterback developed slowly during his two seasons at Alabama, but he was invaluable to the Crimson Tide when it mattered most. CBSSports.com ranks Coker as its 14th-best quarterback and considers him to be a seventh-round pick or potential undrafted free agent. Coker started just one year and has to work on his accuracy, according to the website's analysis. He could be a player a team takes a flier on to develop and groom for the future.