We're 28 days from the start of training camp in Berea, which means we have a little time to look toward the clouds (they've abstained from rain for a whole 48 hours!) and ponder deep thoughts about how things might go for the 2019 Cleveland Browns.
From that process, we've emerged from the inner portion of our football-focused consciences with nine very important questions related to this football team, which reconvenes for the start of camp in a month. We'll address one per weekday for the next two weeks. Next up: The men who block and catch passes.
Most Important Question Ahead of Training Camp No. 6: How does tight end shake out?
We here at ClevelandBrowns.com and with the Browns Radio Network teamed up recently to assemble our 53-man Browns team from the last 40 years of time. Gary Barnidge and Jordan Cameron, tight ends who collectively broke 600 yards in a season just three times combined, made the list, far behind Pro Football Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome.
Simply, the Browns haven't seen a true successor to the throne the Wizard of Oz vacated when he retired after the 1990 season.
That could soon change, perhaps more by a collective effort than by one individual. This Browns tight ends group is loaded.
We start with David Njoku, the former first-round pick who very much feels like he's on the precipice of a true breakout season. Njoku is an excellent leaper (even when sometimes it's a preposterous attempt that ends up seeing him carried into the end zone), has shown improved hands and is working on his blocking. Browns general manager John Dorsey challenged Njoku in late February to commit to blocking, and we'll see where he is once the pads come on during camp.
Until then, though, we can count on Njoku, who is still incredibly young (he turns 23 in July), to continue his steady improvement as a potential weapon at the position. And that's just the beginning with this group.
Seemingly ever aware of where his former finds are in their individual careers, Dorsey used this offseason to reunite with Demetrius Harris, a former undrafted free agent he unearthed from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee when he was with the Chiefs. Harris spent his first season on the practice squad before developing as a solid No. 2 tight end behind All-Pro Travis Kelce.
We caught up with Kelce in June, and he's incredibly excited about what the athletic Harris will bring to the Browns.
"It's so cool to see him progress," Kelce said. "From when we both got in Kansas City back in 2013 to how good he is now, he was a hidden gem in our offense last year, man. Just an accountable guy. I used to always say 'D-Harris, right on time.' Because it was whenever we needed a huge play or needed him to make a big play for us, he was right there on time with it.
"You want to talk about an all-around tight end? A guy that's a freak of nature, athleticism, and then on top of that can get in the trenches and block any single player that you name in the National Football League. He's a hidden gem and I think Cleveland got an unbelievable football player. It hurt me to see him go but I'm happy for him, happy for his new opportunity and can't wait to see him play."
Harris is a big-bodied (6-foot-7, 230 pounds) tight end who can create running lanes, but can also make a big play that is becoming more typical of tight ends as the position welcomes the more athletic types to create mismatches. The Browns can trot both Njoku and Harris out and immediately create mismatches with opposing defenses, while also lining up Beckham and Landry to create an imposing group of targets.
And there are still four tight ends left to fill the last one or two spots on the roster. Seth DeValve returns as an unheralded workman-like tight end who possesses valuable experience and intelligence at the position. Orson Charles can fill the H-back role for the Browns and isn't at all afraid to get his nose dirty.
Pharaoh Brown is a local product from Lyndhurst, Ohio, and is another massive tight end whose presence is visible from across the field. And finally, Stephen Carlson is, like DeValve, another Princeton product who is adept at finding soft spots in defenses. He was very effective at settling in open areas and serving as a reliable pass-catcher during minicamp, and also made a few nice end-zone grabs during the week of practice.
"I think the entire group of tight ends that the Browns have is very unique," Kelce said. "Pharaoh Brown, a kid that I knew growing up in Cleveland, Orson Charles and on top of that, you've got the Chief himself (Njoku). I think with those four, the sky's the limit on what the group can actually do because everybody's got their strength that they can bring to the table. I think you guys can go three tight ends at a time out there if you guys really wanted to take Odell or Jarvis off the field, or one of your two, three running backs that you've got back there. It's gonna be fun just to see where the offense goes, how it everyone progresses and what role everyone has to take on."
The difficult part about this group, much like the offensive line and receiver group, is the team can't keep all of them when it comes time to trim down the roster. It's tough to project who makes the team beyond Njoku and Harris, but one thing is certain: This is a deep, talented tight end group that will be poised to make the position a problem for opposing defenses come September and beyond.