The weather is warming in Berea, and the Browns are steadily adding more to their plate as their offseason workout schedule moves forward. [
OTAs are next. But first, we're plucking five questions from the mailbag in this week's installment.
Who do you think can be that "out of nowhere player" for the Browns in the 2017 season? - David S., Akron
This is a fun question and one I'm not going to limit to just one player. Here are three candidates to consider.
OL Shon Coleman - The former third-round pick simply didn't see the field much during his rookie season for a variety of reasons. When he played in the season finale at Pittsburgh, he impressed. The departure of Austin Pasztor opens the door for Coleman to increase his playing time in a big way by winning the open right tackle job.
WR Rannell Hall - The Browns have some openings for young players to impress at wide receiver, and Hall is a name to file away along with Cleveland's three Day 3 selections from last year - Ricardo Louis, Jordan Payton and Rashard Higgins. It was hard not to notice Hall last year during OTAs and the early part of training camp. The good vibes came to an end in Green Bay, though, as Hall suffered a season-ending injury after catching two passes for 27 yards in Cleveland's first preseason game. He's now nine months removed from the injury and ready to compete for an important role.
S Tyvis Powell - A popular name around the Cleveland area, Powell has a chance to make an immediate impact at free safety, where the competition promises to be wide open. Last year, the undrafted Powell was on Seattle's active roster throughout all of 2016 and he appeared in eight games. A roster casualty during the playoffs, Powell was a top target for the Browns, who used their No. 1 waiver priority to claim him on the first possible day.
When I took a look at Najee Murray from Kent State (via Ohio State) I was both pleased we decided to invite him in for a tryout but kinda surprised we didn't just sign him outright. Any unsigned rookie free agents you think can make an impact if signed? Thanks. - Jay S., Atlanta
I've got to give you some credit, Jay. This question was sent before rookie minicamp got underway, and your hunch on Murray proved to be correct. He was one of two tryout players signed -- Donte Carey has since been released in the wake of Jason McCourty's signing -- and he'll compete for a spot on the 53-man roster. As far as the other undrafted free agent signings, it's worth keeping an eye on players at positions of need, such as safety Kai Nacua and pass-rushing defensive ends Jamal Marcus and Karter Schult. All of these players have a tough path toward the 53, but one or two seem to find a way each year.
What happened to the blocking fullback? In the past they were always a key part of a great running offense that also served as the third-down power runner and extra blocker in the backfield. - Joe L., Ohio
The proliferation of spread offenses and wide-open passing attacks can be cited as one of the major reasons why fullbacks are used for such fewer snaps these days and why a number of teams don't even carry one on the 53-man roster. Under Hue Jackson, the Browns have carried one, as Malcolm Johnson and Danny Vitale held the duties last season. In nine games, Vitale saw the field for 74 snaps and caught four passes for 27 yards. He never carried the ball.
During a September 2016 interview, running backs coach/run game coordinator Kirby Wilson said the fullback in Cleveland's offense "has to change our offense when he steps on the football field."
"He has to come in the game with a fullback demeanor that he is aggressive, he plays with aggression, and that he is the first one to strike people," Wilson said. "I need a dirty truck driver out there. I do not need a guy who wants to catch a lot of passes and who wants to touch the football."
How many defensive linemen are expected to make the 53-man roster? What is the average for Cleveland? - James N., Indiantown, Florida
That's a tricky question this year because we don't yet know how exactly Gregg Williams' defense will look when it comes to consistent formations. Odds are, the Browns are going to line up in more 4-3 sets than they have in the past few years, especially with the arrival of prototypical, pass-rushing, 4-3 end Myles Garrett, but it certainly won't be the only formation. With that in mind, it's safe to expect the Browns to keep more than the six defensive linemen they had on their initial 53-man roster last year. Eight would be a safe guess at this point, but that's all it is at this point -- a guess.
If rookie Rod Johnson is targeted to backup reliable Joe Thomas at left tackle, it seems like the only action he will see on the offensive line is in preseason and on the practice field. Your thoughts? - Tom V., Chattanooga
It'd be good news for the Browns if they don't need to call on the services of Johnson very much during his rookie season. That'd mean the starting group, Thomas in particular, stayed healthy and played at a higher level than last season. Coleman has spoken highly of the benefits he feels like he received from experiencing what was essentially a redshirt season, and now he's poised as a top contender at right tackle.