We're firing up another Browns Mailbag as we inch closer to mandatory minicamp.
This week, we're talking position battles, young players who could step up in 2022 and a look into a crowded RB room. Keep asking away!
What do you think the biggest position battles are going to be during OTA's? - Brooks Posta, Cincinnati, Ohio
Organized team activities will wrap up this week, and the real position battles won't start until training camp, but it's still worth looking at the top competitions on the roster now that OTAs are almost complete.
Here are some of the top battles …
Center: The battle is between Nick Harris and Ethan Pocic, with Harris taking the first-team reps so far in OTAs. The 2020 fifth-round pick has had the time and tutelage needed to develop into a starter, but he'll still have to earn it in training camp over Pocic, a five-year veteran who started over 40 games with the Seahawks.
Defensive tackle: Both starting defensive tackle jobs are up for grabs, and the Browns have several unproven — but promising — players at the position who will be in the competition. We've seen Taven Bryan, a first-round pick in 2018 who signed with the Browns in free agency, and Jordan Elliott, a 2020 third-round pick, take first team reps in OTAs, but it wouldn't be surprising to see the Browns offer those reps to other guys in future practices. 2021 fourth-rounder Tommy Togiai, 2022 fourth-rounder Perrion Winfrey and seven-year veteran Sheldon Day could also be in the shuffle.
Slot CB: Greg Newsome II has been the main guy taking snaps at this position so far, but Head Coach Kevin Stefanski said the Browns will give other CBs an opportunity here, too. Rookie Martin Emerson Jr. and AJ Green could be given looks, but Newsome certainly appears to be the frontrunner to play the position in 2022.
Slot WR: We've seen third-round rookie David Bell play most of the slot reps so far, although Jakeem Grant, Anthony Schwartz and Donovan Peoples-Jones could be called for the role at points in training camp, too.
MIKE LB: The role belonged to Anthony Walker Jr. last season, although third-year veteran Jacob Phillips has been given some of the snaps there in OTAs. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah could also be in play for the role, but there could be continuous shuffling there throughout training camp and the regular season as defensive coordinator Joe Woods looks to keep the defense as versatile as possible.
Check out photos of players and coaches working throughout the offseason
The Browns have young potential in 2nd and 3rd year players that could make the team contend. Who is expected to have big games? - Rob McCoy, Fairmont WV
We've mentioned a good chunk of the guys who fall in this category in the answer above, but let's dive a bit deeper here.
Elliott is a third-year player who could have his biggest role yet in the interior rotation. His snap count steadily rose last season, and he was playing around 50 percent of snaps in the second half of the year. He and Harris are two players from the 2020 draft class who could earn their first starting roles with the Browns since they entered the league.
Peoples-Jones and Schwartz are being counted on to take a step up as well. Amari Cooper is the only receiver locked into a big role in the receiver room, and the Browns appear ready to give Peoples-Jones and Schwartz every chance in training camp to show they can be heavy contributors in the regular season.
Newsome, of course, will be one of the Browns' biggest secondary assets regardless of where he's positioned. Phillips and Owusu-Koramoah appear destined to have sizable roles on the defense, too.
Other second- and third-year players not mentioned yet include Harrison Bryant, who could slot behind David Njoku at tight end and see an increased presence in the offense. Demetric Felton Jr. will be interesting to watch in the receiver competition and the crowded running back room, which we're talking about next.
With such an abundance of high quality depth at the position, how many running backs can we realistically expect the Browns to keep on the regular season roster and/or practice squad? - Nick Dolance, Glendale, AZ
This is a great question, even though it's one we won't be able to answer until training camp.
The starting RB jobs, of course, are all settled with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. But behind them, a four-man competition will take place between D'Ernest Johnson, sixth-round rookie Jerome Ford, John Kelly Jr. and Felton.
So, six players are in a room where the Browns kept four players for the start of the season a year ago. If they stick with that number when they finalize the 53-man roster in August, some tough decisions could be coming. Special teams abilities and versatility as a pass catcher could all play a factor in who they decide to keep, which is also why a close eye should be kept on the position in training camp.
"Those types of things are really good problems to have," Stefanski said. "We want good players and if we have a bunch of good players at one position, that's OK. No. 1, it builds depth, just talking about D'Ernest there with the amount of plays that he gave us last season. But it promotes competition. I just think it's our job to utilize those guys as we see fit."