Cleveland’s rookie class is back in Berea, joining forces with the team’s veterans who have gone through nearly a month’s worth of offseason workouts together.
It marked the first time the Browns’ nine draft picks and slew of undrafted free agents shared the field and meeting rooms with the team’s veterans, a revamped group that first came together April 16 and has voluntarily worked out together four days a week during that span. They’ll go through a week of workouts as a full team before kicking off their first OTA next Tuesday.
The inclusion of the rookies certainly makes the overall roster younger, on average, but it’s a 90-man group that carries much more experience than previous years.
“I definitely think we’ve gotten a little bit older, and a little bit more mature,” offensive lineman Joel Bitonio said. “And not just the guys we’ve brought in, you’ve got two big rookie classes that are growing. They’re second- and third-year players now, so they are kind of developing, as well.”
Since the start of the league year, Cleveland has added at least one player with at least four years of playing experience to each major position group. The most drastic change came at quarterback, where the Browns added starter Tyrod Taylor (eight years) and veteran backup Drew Stanton, the most senior member of the roster.
Last year, Cleveland had a rookie, DeShone Kizer, start 15 games with two backups who carried just one year of NFL experience. This year, Taylor and Stanton will headline a room that also includes No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield.
“With Tyrod, you get experience. You get a guy who understands how to get to the playoffs. You get a guy who understands how to extend a play,” general manager John Dorsey said. “With Drew, I have always thought that the second quarterback is the guy who has got a little bit of veteran presence with him. He is going to help. That No. 2 guy is invaluable to the starter when they start game planning on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday getting ready for a game.
“He will be that bridge to kind of teach (Mayfield) how to be a professional because there is only one way that a young man is going to learn how to be professional in this game, and that is by true professionals. That is kind of why you do this thing.”
The addition of Carlos Hyde gives the Browns two running backs with four or more years of experience to pair with Nick Chubb, the team’s second of two second-round selections.
Cleveland landed one of the league’s most productive wide receivers, Jarvis Landry, in a trade to kick off the league year. He’ll work with three members of the Browns’ 2016 draft class -- Corey Coleman, Rashard Higgins and Ricardo Louis -- Josh Gordon and another new veteran, fifth-year Jeff Janis, among others, to get more production from a position group that struggled from start to finish last season. Rookies Antonio Callaway and Damion Ratley are some of the newest additions.
The Browns’ offensive line was its most experienced group last season, but the loss of future Hall of Fame left tackle Joe Thomas has made it a little younger in 2018. Seven-year veteran Donald Stephenson will be the elder statesman competing at left tackle while fifth-year Chris Hubbard, who began his career in Pittsburgh, is slated to play on the right side.
Fifth-year veteran Chris Smith joins a defensive line that is flush with young talent. Ends Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah are entering their second and third years, respectively, while the interior is headlined by second- and third-year players Trevon Coley, Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley.
The defensive backfield had arguably one of the biggest makeovers during the offseason. Damarious Randall, who is entering his fourth season, came to Cleveland via trade while three others -- E.J. Gaines, T.J. Carrie and Terrance Mitchell -- were added as free agents. Veteran Jason McCourty left in a trade with New England, but the Browns are confident Denzel Ward, the team’s fourth overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, can bring shutdown cornerback qualities to a position group that struggled with youth and injuries last season.
“I think young players, when they come to the National Football League, they don't know much about it. I mean, how could they? They play college football. And I think players need to have an example in front of them of what it takes to play in the National Football League and just the grind of it all,” Browns coach Hue Jackson said. “I think that's important and I think that's how you learn. The younger player becomes better than the veteran player and so be it. But at the same time, you have to have a foundation, where to start from. We do.
“We have some veteran players here who know how to play and I think that's exciting. And if we get guys that are better than those guys, then that's just part of the process.”