Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: Who’s battling for the final spots in crowded Browns CBs room?

We’re riding the waves of the final week of the preseason, and we’re hoping to keep the barge in Cleveland after Thursday’s Great Lakes Classic.

Before we set sail, we’re taking five of your questions.

Do you feel that Braxton Miller is truly competing for a WR spot on the team or do you feel other plans are afoot given his OSU QB experience? -- Howard C., Stretton on Fosse, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom

Miller wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t truly competing for a spot in the wide receivers room. That much has been made clear in recent days, as the Browns placed promising undrafted rookie D.J. Montgomery on injured reserve and parted ways with veteran Jaelen Strong. There’s also been the injury/looming suspension for Antonio Callaway, who won’t be available for the first four games. Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins can’t catch all of the passes. There’s jobs to be had in Cleveland’s wide receivers room, and Miller is very much among those vying for a spot.

Miller, a former Ohio State quarterback and third-round selection by the Houston Texans, brings a mixture of experience, hunger and reliability on special teams to the table. He spent all of last season on the Eagles’ practice squad before his release earlier this month. That he was able to join the team last Monday and play significant snaps Friday at Tampa is an achievement. He has a big opportunity to impress against the Lions and shouldn’t be overlooked.

“I think he is picking up the offense,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. “That tells you a little bit about his learning ability. We will see if we can put him in some positions to make some plays Thursday night. He is doing well, though.”

Check out the best photos from Browns Camp by team photographer Matt Starkey

Since Denzel Ward, Greedy Williams, T.J. Carrie, and Terrance Mitchell have locked down the first four cornerback spots on the roster, who can grab the last couple spots at corner? -- Amir A., Cleveland

There are a number of players in the mix here -- another big reason why Thursday’s game carries some significance. The group was narrowed by one earlier this week when undrafted rookie Jhavonte Dean was released, but there are a handful of players to consider. Again, special teams contributions can’t be overlooked here and it’s honestly hard to rule anyone out at this point.

Phillip Gaines, a mid-season waiver claim who was re-signed in March, brings a lot of experience to the table and has shown the ability to play on the inside and outside. Tavierre Thomas, who was claimed after cut-down day last year, was a special teams ace from start to finish in 2018 and was active on all special teams last week in Tampa. Lenzy Pipkins has regularly worked with the second-team defense at outside corner. Seventh-round pick Donnie Lewis Jr. has held his own at nickel and Robert Jackson has bounced back nicely from a rocky start to training camp. With the number of safeties poised to land a roster spot, the Browns could maybe get away with keeping just five true cornerbacks but six is a more traditional number. We’ll just have to wait and see how they do Thursday.

In checking the highlights of the Colts game, I saw too many missed tackles. But I see no mention of the issue. Can it be shown statistically that I am wrong, and do not have to worry about more of the same problem (bad tackling) of 2018? -- Duane B., Delevan, New York

I don’t have any stats to provide but I do know the missed tackles -- three by Kitchens’ count on Indianapolis’ first half scoring drive -- were a major frustration for Kitchens after watching his team play so physically throughout training camp. It’s one of the main reasons why he wasn’t thrilled with how the team performed in a game it was still able to win.

“It bothers me anytime a football player misses tackles because this game is always going to be – I do not care how other people do it – for us, it is always going to be about blocking and tackling,” Kitchens said. “If you do not do one of those two, your success rate goes down tremendously.”

In our opinion, that tackling was much, much better against the Buccaneers.

With the 4-2-5 defensive alignment, how does the LB/safety numbers look to shake out? Who will be the surprise cut or keep here? -- Mark R., Star Valley, Arizona

Typically, the Browns and teams across the league keep six or seven linebackers on their 53-man roster. Cleveland could, in theory, get away with five, but that will be very tough to do. The 4-2-5 is a big part of what the Browns do on defense, but it’s not the only look as they displayed last week in Tampa. Adarius Taylor got the start at SAM linebacker as the Browns utilized a traditional 4-3 look throughout the first half with their starters.

Where it could get interesting, though, is safety -- a position at which the Browns have typically kept four or maybe five. That could be hard to do this year, as Damarious Randall, Morgan Burnett, Jermaine Whitehead and Eric Murray have all received regular snaps with the first-team defense and fourth-round pick Sheldrick Redwine looks to be a key player on special teams, at the minimum. There’s also Juston Burris, a former cornerback who has really impressed at his new position as well as special teams.

Do you think that Nick Chubb will be a three-down back until the return of Kareem Hunt? Or do you think Hilliard (or someone else) will develop into the role that Duke Johnson Jr. had the previous seasons? -- Brooks P., Cincinnati

Does it make sense if I say yes to both of your questions? Two things can be true here, and I believe Chubb has the ability and versatility to be a three-down back while also believing Dontrell Hilliard will have a significant role in this year’s offense. It will all depend on the situation and matchup.

“I think (Chubb) will be used a little more in the passing game than he was last year,” run game coordinator/running backs coach Stump Mitchell said. “Nick just continues to improve on the skillset that he has, and I think he has a fantastic skillset. Of course, it is going to revolve around the offensive line doing their jobs, the tight ends doing their jobs and the wide receivers doing their jobs not just in the running game but also in being a threat in the passing game so they can’t put eight men down in the box.

“I think he is going to be special like he was last year.”

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