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Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: Which players are candidates for the new kickoff play?

Staff Writer Kelsey Russo answers your questions

NEW June 2.0 Mailbag

We've entered the quiet portion of the offseason.

After the Browns wrapped up veteran mandatory minicamp on June 13, they will not be back at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus until they report for training camp in late July. Rookies report on July 22, while veterans report on July 23.

So, during this down time, we opened up the mailbag and answered some of your questions.

Will all three tackles be ready for the start of the season? – Gail W., Middleown, New Jersey

That is the belief that they will be ready for the start of the season. Dawand Jones was present during OTAs and participated in a number of different drills. Jones continued to take reps during minicamp, and head coach Kevin Stefanski said Jones is "progressing nicely" with his recovery.

Jack Conklin and Jedrick Wills Jr. also then returned for mandatory minicamp. Conklin did not participate in the drills but was on the sideline with the offensive linemen as they ran through position drills.

"Another guy who's attacking rehab, doing everything in his power, doing a nice job in the weight room," Stefanski said of Conklin. "And then getting him out here obviously is a big deal just to be around his teammates. But he's doing everything that we're asking of him, including doing a great job in the meeting room."

Wills worked off to the side during minicamp with other players who are working back from injury, but also did not participate in the drills with the offensive line.

Who is the number two tight end going to be? – John A., Ocala, Florida

There will be a clearer picture of how the tight end room shakes out as the Browns go through training camp in late July and into the preseason. Mandatory minicamp was the first time this offseason that all four rostered tight ends were present, so it was a first look at what the group can do.

That room consists of David Njoku, Jordan Akins, Zaire Mitchell-Paden and Treyton Welch. Giovanni Ricci – who the Browns signed during free agency – is playing more in the fullback role with the Browns than tight end, which he also played with the Panthers.

Njoku and Akins took a number of reps during minicamp, catching passes from QB Deshaun Watson during offensive drills and 7-on-7 drills.

Akins finished his first season with the Browns with 15 receptions for 132 yards and averaged 8.8 yards per catch. He has an opportunity in his second year with the Browns, and with the previous connection with Watson from their three seasons together in Houston, to increase his role among the tight ends.

Which wide receivers or defensive backs are candidates for special team players as gunners on punts or as returners on the new kickoff play? – Rob M., Fairmont, West Virginia

Throughout OTAs and minicamp, the Browns experimented with a number of different skills players for the kickoff play, from players like receivers, running backs and tight ends. On coverage, the Browns have repped different defensive players and are looking at the use of bigger body types on the coverage unit.

Over the course of OTAs and minicamp, wide receivers like rookie Jamari Thrash and Ahmarean Brown, as well as second-year receiver Cedric Tillman, all took reps as returners. RB Jerome Ford also took reps as a returner.

Assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone said over during the offseason program they have been able to drill different elements. In phase two, they focused on on-air, drops, get-offs, tracking the football, catching the football and fly-foot with the returners.

Then in OTAs and minicamp, they were able to line players up against one another, and have focused on the spacing and timing of the play and how the play looks on both sides of the ball.

"I think across the league you're going to see more high-profile players back there," Ventrone said. "I think just guys that are good with the ball in their hands because there are elements of this play that play like a kickoff play, there's like a true kickoff kick return play. There's elements of the play that could look like more of a punt return, and I think you're going to see a variety of schemes in that sense.

"I think you're going to see some schemes that you're going to try to get on guys quicker, and it's going to look more like a punt return," Ventrone continued. "I think you're going to see some teams that will have schemes and plays that look like the old kickoff return where you're going to retreat and you're blocking techniques. So, I think that you're going to see a variety of things, and you're going to see a lot of different body types back there."

There is still a trial-and-error process they will go through during training camp as they continue to rep the new kickoff and figure out roles on either side of the play. But the offseason program provided a first look at the kickoff on the field and an early look at what could and could not work on the play.