Browns Mailbag

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Browns Mailbag: Who steps up now at wide receiver?

It’s a quick game week in Berea, but we’re treating the Browns Mailbag like it’s a full one, answering five of your questions on this sunny, warm Wednesday.

Who will replace Gordon? - Thomas M., Atlanta

This is a simple answer but there’s some nuance to it. There’s no replacing the mix of physicality and God-given gifts Josh Gordon possesses. And there’s no replacing the big-play threat he posed to opposing defenses on any given play. Still, the Browns have confidence in their young receiving corps, and it starts with rookie Antonio Callaway. The fourth-rounder responded well to extensive snaps Sunday, catching three passes for 81 yards and taking a first-quarter reverse for 18. He flashed truly special speed on his 47-yard touchdown reception late in Sunday’s fourth quarter. It’s a play both he and the Browns believe will buoy his confidence moving forward.

“You want to see someone other than the people that you know that is going to start to elevate himself and start making plays for you. He was able to do that,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “That was a huge play. I am sure that you guys went back and watched it. For him to go and track that ball down like he did, wow. He can run.”

According to the NFL’s Next Gen stats, Callaway hit 21.48 miles per hour on his touchdown route. That’s third-fastest of any player in the league this season.

There’s more to Cleveland’s receiving room than just Callaway, of course. Jarvis Landry has already shown how valuable he can be, catching 12 passes for 175 yards through two games. Rashard Higgins will continue to hold down the No. 3 role while rookies Damion Ratley and Derrick Willies and recently signed veteran Rod Streater figure to see their respective roles expanded in the coming weeks.

What is the issue with our special teams? We give up too many yards on punts. Failure to return punts when there is clearly room to run. A bad punt and a blocked field goal attempt. -- Howard P., Richmond Heights

The Browns have a lot of moving pieces on special teams and a lot of young players occupying those positions. They’ll be the first to tell you the performance needs to be better after an up and down first couple of weeks. Last week was as bad as it gets at the kicker position, and the Browns responded by moving on from Zane Gonzalez and replacing him with Greg Joseph. A penalty for an illegal block on a punt return all but eliminated Cleveland’s chance to try to score on its final drive of the first half. And the Browns dodged a bullet in the third quarter after Taysom Hill’s 47-yard kickoff return, as the defense toughened up and prevented the Saints from scoring.

On the plus side, Britton Colquitt has been his typical, reliable self on punts, and he played a big role in Cleveland limiting the Saints to zero return yards Sunday. Jabrill Peppers also looked more comfortable on punt and kick returns, especially when he came really close to popping one in the first half.

He certainly is, and the Browns are looking to get the talented, fourth-year running back more involved in the offense. Through two games, Johnson has eight rushes for 20 yards and three receptions for 15. Cleveland upgraded its talent at both running back and wide receiver during the offseason, so Johnson’s touches and activity, especially in the passing game, figured to take a dip in 2018. Still, the Browns view him as one of their most talented playmakers and are confident his time will come.

“He has to touch the ball,” Jackson said. “Duke is a tremendous player. We are glad he is here, and we have got to put him position to make an impact because he can. We will continue to look at different ways of getting him involved, but we will. We will get Duke going.”

The Browns definitely are not. Players and coaches, alike, know the team could very well be 2-0 but currently sit at 0-1-1 because of a slew of missed opportunities. That stings, especially for players who weathered 1-15 and 0-16 seasons. They know this is a better team. It’s time to see it follow through in the win column.

“Every week has its own pressure. As a team, we focus on getting better each and every week. We could easily be sitting 2-0 right now. A couple of errors in the first two games and we are sitting at a tie and one in the loss category. Something that we have to clean up and get better at.”

I understand the reason to waive Zane Gonzalez, but why go with a relatively unproven rookie? When the Browns picked him up, wasn’t Dan Bailey still on the market? -- Alex G., Monroe, North Carolina

The Browns looked at what they saw in front of their own eyes, and Joseph proved to be the best kicker at a Monday tryout. He made six of seven kicks with his only miss coming from 56 yards (He quickly made it on a second attempt). 

“A young player, he has the chance hopefully to be very consistent as we move forward,” Jackson said. “He has a strong leg obviously, too. He fits all the criteria that we are looking for in a kicker. We feel good about him, and obviously, he has to go do it.”

As for Bailey, the veteran turned down multiple offers and ultimately signed Monday with the Minnesota Vikings. It looks like Bailey was searching for a specific fit, and he liked Minnesota better than the rest.

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