Before we fly to Tampa on Saturday, we’re flying through six of your questions on this chilly Tuesday in Berea.
I like those three categories you presented at the end when it comes to evaluating the 2018 rookie class, so I’ll use those to pick my favorites from this year’s group, which is at 14 after undrafted wide receiver Da’Mari Scott was elevated from the practice squad Tuesday.
Biggest surprise: LB Genard Avery - The Browns really liked Avery throughout the pre-draft process and cashed in big time when they were able to land him with a fifth-round pick. A middle linebacker at Memphis, Cleveland has tapped into what Avery does best -- rush the passer -- and unleashed him in that capacity. Now, with middle linebacker Joe Schobert poised to miss some time with a hamstring injury, Avery will be called upon to do even more as a regular at weakside linebacker. Christian Kirksey is set to take over some of Schobert’s responsibilities in the middle.
MVP: QB Baker Mayfield - This one was close, and in most other years it would have been doled out to Denzel Ward -- who has been nothing short of spectacular at cornerback -- but the No. 1 pick has taken the reins at the most important position on the field and shown plenty of reasons to believe the Browns got it right at the top of the draft.
Biggest steal: OL Desmond Harrison - Each team in the NFL gets one or two undrafted free agents to make the 53-man roster, but few in the league have taken on more than Harrison, who has gotten better with each game as the team’s starting left tackle. Making Harrison’s rise even more impressive is the fact he missed the first half of training camp while recovering from an injury.
What are the plans for Anthony Zettel? Play him or is he just insurance? -- Ken S., St. Petersburg, Florida
The Browns added Zettel to the roster shortly before the season opener and have made him active in the five games since. He’s helped spell Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah, playing a few snaps per game, and also contributed on special teams. It’s been hard to get either of those players off the field, but Zettel, who had 7.5 sacks over the past two seasons in Detroit, has been there to provide depth.
During the Browns game winning field goal, the ball was deflected. Was it a result of a low trajectory or was there a breakdown in the blocking? -- Bob R., Novelty
Maybe a little bit of both, but Browns special teams coordinator Amos Jones acknowledged last week the team had some issues keeping the Ravens at bay on that particular kick. Ravens safety Tony Jefferson worked his way inside a little too easily for Jones’ liking.
“The biggest thing is protection is always inside out,” Jones said. “You have to shore up the inside from the A gap out. When you have guys like Myles Garrett that can rush inside, you better be protecting against those kind of guys. That is kind of who sets the standard for you is the guys that can rush inside, and then you add that guy like Denzel (Ward) on the outside. It is all about eyes and trusting your footwork and technique.
“Whether it is four guys or three guys, it does not matter because you still have to have the ability to protect inside and a little bit outside from the standpoint of how you finish. You just have to do a better job on the inside. That is where the breakdowns can come to.”
Now that Higgins and Willies are out what is the status of C.J. Board? It seemed he and Baker did well in preseason. I saw that he was waived. Is there a chance he could come back since he knows the playbook somewhat? -- Dale S., Red Hook
Never say never, but the Browns made their first move at wide receiver Tuesday when they elevated Da’Mari Scott from the practice squad. The Browns also added Blake Jackson, who was with the team during the preseason, to the practice squad. Board was initially waived with an injury designation at the end of the preseason, reverted to injured reserve and was waived from injured reserve in the days leading up to Cleveland’s Week 2 matchup with the Saints. Board, who had a strong preseason with five catches for 54 yards, remains a free agent.
As a devoted Buckeyes fan, I remember that State up North using Jabrill Peppers on offense in several positions. With the Browns being depleted at wide receiver could they use him to help on offense to give Baker another option while some of the receivers recover or the front office tries to pick someone else up? -- Gregory S., Largo, Florida
Another never say never caveat, but Peppers has been plenty busy fulfilling his duties at strong safety and on special teams. On top of adding some necessary depth at wide receiver, the Browns are hoping to get more out of their pass-catchers at other positions, such as running back and tight end.
Browns coach Hue Jackson chalked it up to improvement by the Browns’ special teams units. They were the one and only aspect of Sunday’s game he liked, as Peppers registered two nice returns, one going for 14 yards and another going for a career-long 33. It was a small but important step for a special teams unit that labored through the first quarter of the season with a litany of penalties and unsuccessful returns.
“I thought there were some things we did better,” Jackson said. “We gave up a return, but outside of that, I thought we returned the ball better. I thought we blocked better. I thought the PAT protection was better. I think that was improvement.”