Fresh Takes from Training Camp

Presented by

Fresh Takes: A look at the Browns preseason standouts on both sides of the ball

The Browns have all but concluded their official 2020 Training Camp in Berea and will now turn their attention to the regular season opener against the Baltimore Ravens. Let's take a look back at players on both sides of the ball and in different stages of their careers who really seized the opportunity.  

Offense

TE Austin Hooper

So many of the Browns "stars" on offense looked the part in Berea, from receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. However, none stood out quite like prized free agent signing TE Austin Hooper. The chemistry that was built between Hooper and QB Baker Mayfield during offseason workouts in Austin, Texas, was on full display day in and day out during camp. Hooper is a back-to-back Pro Bowl selection, and if camp was any indication, he will make his third straight trip this year. Hooper has stood out as someone who knows how to get open, catches everything thrown his way and looks like he will be a real factor in the red zone as we saw during the practice at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday. Mayfield has always loved going to his tight ends, dating back to his time in college, and he may have found his new security blanket and weapon over the middle in Hooper.  

TE Harrison Bryant

You certainly could say this was a banner camp for the tight end room under the tutelage of coach Drew Petzing.  Hooper was one of the camp's most outstanding players. David Njoku, who missed some time with a wrist injury, reminded everyone of how good he can be in the scrimmage at FirstEnergy Stadium. Pharaoh Brown and Stephen Carlson have each flashed and provided solid play as both blockers and receivers. No one, however, may have had a stronger camp versus expectations than rookie Harrison Bryant. From Day 1, he looked like a multi-year veteran rather than a rookie, displaying a savvy route running style and incredible hands regardless if he was open or had to make contested catches. Bryant initially got into the groove with backup QB Case Keenum, becoming a touchdown machine in the red zone. He earned first-team reps, and his play continued to shine with Mayfield, demonstrating a feel for finding the soft spot in zones, beating man-to-man coverage and, of course, making tough catches in the end zone. On the day when the Browns had to move indoors due to inclement weather, it seemed like every video released was a highlight of a big play from Mayfield to Bryant. Fresh off winning the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end, Bryant added some more hardware to his collection by being named the Maurice Bassett Award winner (outstanding rookie in Browns camp) by the Browns beat writers. Based on all of this, Bryant has likely earned himself a real role in Kevin Stefanski's offense this year, well ahead of schedule.

Check out exclusive photos from Tuesday's practice in Berea

RB D'Ernest Johnson

Everyone knows the Browns are loaded at running back with co-starters Chubb and Hunt, so the interesting thing to watch in camp was the battle for the third running back spot between D'Ernest Johnson, Dontrell Hilliard and UDFA rookie Benny Lemay. Hilliard has two years of experience with the Browns, and Johnson joined the franchise last year, appearing in all 16 games and picking up 92 total yards on 10 touches. Throughout camp, Johnson has appeared to be very quick, decisive in the wide zone offense and shows great acceleration and change of direction. He has always been a great pass catcher and shown a willingness to compete and throw himself head first into his blocking assignments. Johnson is also a capable player on special teams for coordinator Mike Priefer, having value as both a returner and on coverage. Many players took advantage of the real football environment during the Browns' scrimmage at FirstEnergy Stadium last Sunday, but perhaps none did so as compellingly as Johnson. He turned the second possession for the second-team offense into his own personal showcase. On that drive, Johnson had a run for more than 10-plus yards in which he showed great power and elusiveness, spinning his way out of a tackle. He added a reception of more than 10 yards and then caught the touchdown from Keenum to cap off the drive. He very much looked the part of a capable starting running back in the NFL, showing he definitely has come a long way from working on a fishing boat in Florida when he thought his playing days were over. Now they seem to be far from over, and Johnson could be reeling in the big one as the team's third running back in 2020.   

Defense

LB Sione Takitaki

The Browns' third-round pick in 2019, Takitaki appeared in 15 games with one start during his rookie season, collecting 19 tackles and contributing primarily on special teams. Now, he is being counted on to make a big leap in Year 2, especially after the injury to Mack Wilson. If his performance this camp is any indication, Takitaki is definitely up to the task. No one worked harder on attacking his areas for improvement than Takitaki, who bombarded linebackers coach Jason Tarver with video after video of his work on coverage techniques. That work has paid off in spades thus far, as Takitaki has looked much more comfortable in coverage and playing in space to complement his abundant physicality near the line of scrimmage. He has shown the ability all camp long to hang with tight ends and running backs in coverage with multiple pass breakups as well as a pick-six off of a deflected pass. The play that stood out to me was Takitaki one-on-one with Hunt on an angle route, where he mirrored perfectly and broke up the pass. That was not something that was readily available in his arsenal as a rookie. Based on the opportunity and his incredible dedication to improvement, Takitaki has shown the potential to be a true, three-down linebacker for the Browns, something they desperately need alongside B.J. Goodson and the injured Wilson. Based on what I saw, Takitaki has looked like the most improved player on the roster from where he was a year ago.   

DT Jordan Elliott

The Browns snagged the talented interior pass rusher out of Missouri with a third-round pick in the 2020 draft. Elliott had earned PFF's highest pass rush grade for an interior defender since 2017, but it was unclear what his role would be in his rookie season. The Browns have two excellent starting tackles in Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi and had added big Andrew Billings in free agency, so it looked like Elliott would not be thrust into action early. Billings has since opted out, and Elliott absolutely grabbed everyone's attention with his play in Berea. In one of the very first padded practices, Elliott was one-on-one with the right guard in a pass rushing situation. He literally picked the guard up and walked him right into Keenum's lap for a sack. It wouldn't be the last time Elliott showed that rare combination of power, agility and closing speed to the quarterback. Elliott got plenty of reps with the one's while Ogunjobi nursed a groin injury. He was a frequent visitor to the offensive backfield, showing excellent penetration skills against the run in addition to his pass rushing prowess. Ever since I watched Elliott's tape with The Athletic's Dane Brugler, I couldn't help but see a player who potentially possessed some of the traits that have made Aaron Donald so dominant. It is clear Elliott has a ton of talent and has earned the respect of his team. Defensive line coach Chris Kiffin has gushed about Elliott whenever asked, and it sure does appear like Elliott will get a chance to play as a rookie.  

CB Donovan Olumba

When the Browns signed Olumba in March, there was not a ton of buzz around it. There certainly is buzz around Olumba now, as injuries have forced him into the first unit on occasion, and he's seen action against the Browns starters. He has been more than up to the task. At 6-foot-2, Olumba brings rare size to the Browns cornerback room and has shown a knack for breaking up passes thrown his way. There were multiple days when Olumba was working on the outside against Beckham and Landry, and he repeatedly broke up passes thrown his way. In fact, on the day Denzel Ward sat out team drills and Greedy Williams, Terrence Mitchell, M.J. Stewart and Kevin Johnson were all out, it was Olumba who looked very much at home as the top corner on the field. At FirstEnergy Stadium, Olumba was locked onto Landry and forced an incompletion on the starting offense's very first play from scrimmage. The Browns have a very talented and deep cornerback room, so making this roster will be no easy task, but Olumba has shown tremendous cover skills that are certainly worthy of playing on Sundays.

Related Content

Advertising