We’re back from vacation, rested and refreshed and ready to tackle your questions with less than a week to go before training camp.
Who is the under-the-radar player that fans should watch for in training camp and preseason to make the final roster? -- Justin B., Austin, Texas
This was an easier question to answer in recent years. The reshaping of the Browns’ roster, though, has made this a little trickier because there are so many more established players who seem like high percentage locks to secure spots on the 53-man roster. With that understanding, there should still be a surprise or two, right? It’s training camp, after all.
We’ll throw out six names to monitor.
OT Greg Robinson - The former No. 2 overall pick hasn’t lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted where he was, but he enters a left tackle competition with more experience than anyone else vying for the job. Though Shon Coleman worked with the first team throughout most of OTAs and minicamp, this position battle remains wide open.
WR C.J. Board - The first-year pass-catcher made play after play during OTAs, often finding himself on the other end of a big pass from rookie Baker Mayfield with the second-team offense. This is a much deeper room than years’ past, but Board can catch plenty of attention if he keeps making a lot of big catches.
WR Damion Ratley - The sixth-round selection didn’t put up a bunch of big numbers in college but was seen as a late-bloomer with a ton of upside. He got better and better as OTAs and minicamp unfolded and will look to find a niche during training camp.
DB Simeon Thomas - Another sixth-round selection, Thomas is built like a wide receiver (6-foot-3, 190) but brings incredible value in press-man coverage. The Browns loaded up on defensive backs this offseason, but Thomas has an opportunity to find a spot where he can contribute.
LB Justin Currie - The former defensive back has added weight and switched positions, giving coach Blake Williams a versatile option in Cleveland’s deep linebacking corps. Currie is a good special teams player, too.
DB Denzel Rice - The second-year player was the defense’s equivalent of Board throughout OTAs, making a number of plays for the second- and third-team units. As mentioned with Thomas, there’s room in the secondary for an off-the-radar player to snag a roster spot, and Rice will put himself in good position if he keeps up what he’s been doing.
Do you think Jamie Collins Sr. will play better this year now that Mychal Kendricks is able to take playing time from him? -- Jeff R., Akron
First off, criticism of Collins’ 2017 season just isn’t fair because of all the time he missed from a concussion and a knee injury that ended his year at the midpoint. The Pro Bowl linebacker is one of the defense’s most talented players and has been constantly lauded for the things he does that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet.
When it comes to the addition of Kendricks, Browns coaches aren’t looking at it as a competition between him and one of the returning starters. Instead, the plan is to incorporate all four in a fashion that will best position the unit against the mismatches opposing offenses try to create.
“I think that our linebackers, especially our veteran linebackers in the room, are excited about what he could potentially bring to not just the room but the defense,” Williams said. “Culturally, kind of like Jamie a couple of years ago, a guy who had just gotten off of a Super Bowl championship, has won in this league, has played in multiple other systems under multiple different people and has had success in this league, being able to bring how to do that to a relatively young roster that has not maybe done that at this level.”
The tackling on special teams last year was marginal at best. Has the coaching staff addressed this problem with the new acquisitions? -- John B., Hampton, Virginia
The Browns will hope to be a better tackling team on special teams, but the bigger emphasis from new coordinator Amos Jones will be on penalties -- something that absolutely killed the unit last season.
“We are not going to be a penalized team,” Jones said. “It is just not good for team football because you are talking about 40-plus yards every time, and a penalty negates that. Same thing on a kickoff return, you are going to see what the spacing is of the two men coming together on the back end because you cannot cluster anymore. We always are going to preach no penalties.”
As for who could emerge as a top tackler on special teams, keep an eye on fifth-round linebacker Genard Avery.
“We’d like to see him become a guy that's part of the core box group on special teams,” assistant special teams coach Sam Shade said. “He's a strong guy, good straight line speed, tough, physical, so we’re hoping he can keep taking steps when we get into training camp.”
What’s up with Carl Nassib? Is he going to start this season? -- Dorian P., San Antonio
Starting might be tough with the return of Emmanuel Ogbah and Myles Garrett. That said, Nassib should play a key role as a versatile lineman who can line up in the middle in certain formations just as easily as he does off the end in Cleveland’s base look. He gained a lot of experience last season when he filled in for Ogbah in the wake of his season-ending foot injury, and that should make him all the more prepared for a big third season.