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Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: Which under-the-radar rookies are impressing?

Senior Writer Andrew Gribble answers your questions every week

Two down, one to go.

That's how oh so close we are to the start of the regular season. Just one more preseason game to knock out before the real fun starts in Kansas City.

Until then, we're taking care of business just like the Browns are. It's a four-question Monday here at the CrossCountry Mortgage Campus.

Has the offense worked on the silent snap count yet? After not needing it last year, they'll definitely need it in KC. — Bob R., Novelty

Yes, that's been on the agenda for the Browns throughout training camp. The team has pumped in crowd noise during several periods and has already experienced an environment in Jacksonville for the preseason opener louder than anything they went through last year. It's definitely an important piece of the team's planning as it prepares for a season in which it will be playing in front of packed houses more often than not.

"That is going to be new for most teams having not gone through it for an entire season," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "We will devote a good portion of time to dealing with crowd noise, silent count and all of the things that go with that."

Would it be possible to put Tony Fields on the IR after the second preseason game and then have him eligible to come off the IR after game two of the regular season? I believe that player can come back after three weeks on IR. Is there a limit to those moves? — Jay N., Nova

This would not be possible under the NFL's roster rules. If a player goes on injured reserve during the preseason, they can't return for the entire season. The only way a player can go on injured reserve and return later in the year is if they first make the cutdown to 53 players.

As of 2020, there are no limits on teams returning players from the injured reserve. The players must spend at least three weeks on the list before they're permitted to return. That's down from the six weeks that were previously required.

The Browns have the ninth-toughest schedule this season. How are the schedules determined each year, and how far in advance are they created? — Frank M., Estero, Florida

This is a good question, and it has a pretty clear cut answer. The NFL's scheduling is as regimented as it gets, and there's very few differences between teams in a given division. 

Let's look at the Browns' schedule as an example. 

This year, the Browns are slated to play six games against their three division foes. Then, they have games against teams from the AFC West and NFC North. The remaining three games are the only ones that are unique to the Browns and are based on how they finished in the previous season. That's why the Browns will play the Texans, who similarly finished third in the AFC South, the Patriots, who finished third in the AFC East, and the Cardinals, who finished third in the NFC West. The reigning AFC North champion Steelers, by comparison, will face the first-place finishers from the AFC South (Titans), AFC East (Bills) and NFC West (Seahawks).

Next year, the schedule simply rotates for those out-of-division games, as the Browns will face all of the teams from the AFC East and NFC South along with single games against teams from the AFC South, AFC West and NFC East who finish the 2021 season in the same place as them. That rotation continues and continues with the only difference being who's at home and who's on the road.

Check out photos of the Browns against the Giants in week two of the preseason

Some third string players have looked good in preseason such as Richard LeCounte, Kyle Lauletta, and Demetric Felton. Your thoughts on the competition and how the preseason could help these players improve the team? — Rob M., Charleston, West Virginia

Let's start with LeCounte, who has been really impressive in the Browns' first two preseason games and made the most of a ton of snaps. The fifth-rounder out of Georgia is getting an extensive look in the wake of injuries at the position and rest to projected starters Ronnie Harrison Jr. and John Johnson III. LeCounte has been at the right place at the right time on end-of-half Hail Mary's, and he's come away with two interceptions in the process.'

LeCounte got the start Sunday and is certainly in the mix for the fourth spot in the safeties room behind Harrison, Johnson and Grant Delpit, who has missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury. Another big opportunity awaits back in his home state of Georgia next week.

"Ball finds a way to him, and he has great ball skills," Stefanski said. "Certainly did in college as well. To be able to get the ball at the end was important."

Felton has been one of the more enjoyable players to watch during the preseason. The Browns knew they had a versatile player on their hands when they selected him in the sixth round, and Felton has shown he can handle the responsibilities at multiple positions. He primarily worked as a wide receiver through the first two weeks of training camp and played at the position in the preseason opener at Jacksonville. This past week and in Sunday's game against the Giants, Felton was back at running back, the spot at which he played the most during his college days at UCLA. Additionally, Felton is working as a returner and other areas on special teams.

"He is a guy who has a lot on his plate right now," QB Baker Mayfield said. "We have asked him to do a lot: learn receiver and running back. It is not something rookies normally are are able to handle. I think it was moving kind of fast for him, but he is a gamer. I think we were able to see in the Jacksonville game when he gets the ball in his hands, he can do some stuff with it. 

"He is a versatile guy. We are happy with where he is and continuing to be a key part of this offense."

Lauletta, meanwhile, has performed well in the Browns' two preseason games. He's taken the majority of the snaps and completed 33-of-50 passes for 364 yards (second-most of anyone in the AFC) and two touchdowns. He's been with the Browns for close to a year now and will get a shot to face his former team in Atlanta next week.

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