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Browns TEs put a triple threat on opposing defenses

With Jarvis Landry sidelined, the Browns likely will continue to turn to all three tight ends to carry the added workload

Austin Hooper always feels a little extra excitement when he joins the huddle with two other tight ends.

That happened during a large chunk of the Browns' offensive snaps Sunday against the Texans. Hooper, David Njoku and Harrison Bryant all played in 30 or more snaps in the 31-21 win, with the TE group garnering 12 of Baker Mayfield's 21 total pass attempts. Only one of those attempts fell incomplete, and the group finished the game with 107 yards. 

"It's awesome," Hooper said Wednesday. "We can get all of the boys on the field competing, working with each other, rooting for each other and watching each other have success. That is always good. We love it."

The Browns are likely to rely on the group even more going forward.

WR Jarvis Landry was placed Tuesday on Injured Reserve with a knee injury suffered on the second play from scrimmage. His absence was a big reason why head coach Kevin Stefanski turned to the tight ends for a substantial role in the win, and they delivered in both the passing and blocking departments — the latter also became important to protect Mayfield from taking hits in the pocket once he injured his non-throwing shoulder after he made a tackle following an interception.

With Landry out for at least the next three games, the tight ends likely will continue to carry significant weight in the receiving game. That plan sounds good to Hooper, who caught all five of his passes for 50 yards and picked up two first downs.

"The goal for us is to just keep it going in the tight end room," he said. "I feel like through the first two weeks, we've done a solid job being where we're supposed to be, being in the right spots and creating friendly throws for our quarterback. We'll just keep it going."

Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Chicago Bears

Even if the Browns were at full strength in their receivers room, three-tight end sets were always going to be a big part of their weekly offensive game plans. 

The Browns have always been high about the future of the group after adding Hooper as a free agent in 2020 and drafting Bryant in the fourth round of the draft that same year. Njoku, a first-round pick in 2017, has drawn praise from Browns coaches this past offseason for showing growth as both a receiver and blocker. 

No tight end trio was on the field together more than them last year. The Browns led the league in usage of three tight-end sets, which was all part of their plan of making the offense unpredictable.

"I feel really good about our three tight ends," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said last week.  

"We do as a group, and I know Kevin does. (We want) to be able to find ways to get them open in the pass game, and then use their ability in the run blocking to keep teams off balanced."

That's one of the reasons Hooper enjoys seeing his two tight end teammates in the huddle.

"It forces the defense to have bigger personnel, and then we can spread them out and do different things," Hooper said. "All the tight ends can play all different spots. We can run base offense out of three tight-end sets where you see Harrison and David and sometimes myself line up outside the numbers as a wide receiver. It just gets different looks from the defense."

All three tight ends will be expected to carry some of the load as they await the return of Landry, as well as Odell Beckham Jr., who was ruled out for the first two games as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. 

The offense, though, has never flinched when it's needed to turn to its tight ends for more help in the receiving game. Another test is ahead of them, and Hooper believes his room is ready to step up.

"It's just the nature of it when one of your top guys are out," Hooper said. "The tide has to rise for everyone else. That's the only way you can compensate when you lose a dynamic playmaker like Jarvis for a few weeks."