The Browns preseason has concluded, and now come the hard questions for head coach Kevin Stefanski and Executive Vice President and GM Andrew Berry: Who makes the 53-man roster?
Those conversations are happening now, and they'll have plenty of hard decisions to make. The Browns have perhaps their most talented roster in decades, which means backup roles and depth spots will be at even more of a premium for players who might have played well in preseason games. They must trim their roster down from 80 players to 53 by Tuesday at 4 p.m.
"I think they are all tough decisions," Stefanski said Monday. "You look across the roster and I think the guys have been competing all the way back to when we first got together in the spring. That is the great part of this job — they get to compete against each other and then compete against another team."
The Browns simply won't be able to keep everyone who impressed them, and the final say ultimately belongs to Berry, who deserves praise for flooding the roster with several talented players in hopes of creating tight competitions across the depth chart.
It's safe to say that mission was accomplished. Now, the front office is hard at work determining which 53 players currently on the roster will give the Browns a shot to win Week 1 at Kansas City. The final roster, though, will likely be flexible in coming days as the league's waiver wire overflows with players likely to be of interest to other teams around the league.
"Andrew and his staff do a great job of working the roster for 365 days," Stefanski said. "They are constantly looking at ways to upgrade, whether it is via trade or otherwise. It's all a part of it. I told the team last night I would love to keep everybody. I wish they relaxed those rules and we could keep everybody, but that is not the nature of this beast."
Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Falcons yesterday by the Browns photo team
Schwartz sees action
One player the Browns eagerly wanted to see in the preseason was rookie wide receiver Anthony Schwartz, a third-round pick who dealt with injuries throughout minicamp and training camp.
Schwartz, a top prospect for his speed, was healthy and finally inserted Sunday, where he played 19 snaps and caught one pass for six yards. He also drew a penalty on the first series that moved the Browns 28 yards down the field.
Stefanski said it's still too soon to read just how much of a role Schwartz will carry in Week 1, but it's a safe bet the Browns will look to create mismatches with Schwartz on defense. That's what a player who ran a sub-4.30 second 40-yard dash can do.
"I just think it is really good for a rookie, a young player to get out there in the game setting and make some plays," Stefanski said. "I think that was a good part of the progression."
McDowell's progressions shows
Malik McDowell earned praise from Stefanski last week after he recorded five tackles, one sack and two quarterback hits against the Giants, and another quality performance Sunday put him in position for even more praise from his coach.
McDowell, a 2017 second-round pick, recorded a half-sack against the Falcons and totaled two tackles and one quarterback hit, padding his preseason stats as one of the top defensive tackles who received ample preseason playing time.
Similar to most players on the roster, McDowell has been guaranteed nothing, but he's certainly left quite an impression on the Browns. Eight players are vying for roles at defensive tackle, and it's hard to not place McDowell near the top of them as a player who thrived in the competition.
"Real excited for what Malik was able to do this preseason, and I really go back to when he first got here in rookie minicamp and first learned our techniques and our schemes," Stefanski said. "Then, you see a player gradually getting better. He did have some moments last night. Also, very physical at the point of attack."
Update at kicker
Chase McLaughlin, the lone kicker on the Browns roster for Sunday's game, connected on two of his three field goal attempts and one of two extra points.
Stefanski said McLaughlin, a two-year veteran who has connected on 22-of-28 career attempts and 31-of-32 extra points, wouldn't be handed the kicking job when the team released Cody Parkey earlier last week. He reiterated again Monday that the position still isn't settled, but said McLaughlin had stacked plenty of impressive moments together in training camp and the preseason, where he was perfect before a few errant kicks Sunday, one of which was a 56-yarder that hit the crossbar.
"I tell you with every single one of these roster spots, these guys are fighting to be one of those 53," Stefanski said. "Chase is right there. He has had a really good camp. Obviously, you do not like to see a miss – we all know that – but he is working really hard."