Browns rookie RT Dawand Jones had his first taste of the NFL regular season in the opener against the Bengals.
He'll get his next taste heading into Week 2 against the Steelers. With the season-ending injury to RT Jack Conklin, Jones will step into a more prominent role at right tackle.
The Browns selected Jones in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft and is quickly getting introduced to the NFL. Yet, he felt equipped heading into the first week of the regular season, as well as stepping into the game after Conklin's injury in the second quarter.
"The vets make sure I know everything," Jones said following the season opener on Sunday. "When I'm leaving the meeting room, our coaches, as well as Jon Decoster. When I have downtime, going over plays making sure I have everything down to the tee."
Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the Bengals by the Browns photo team
Jones played 52 offensive snaps in his debut with the Browns, and his first assignment came against Bengals defensive end and former Buckeye Sam Hubbard. As Jones matched up with Hubbard, some of his moves felt familiar – ones that he's seen before from defensive line coach Larry Johnson at Ohio State – which gave him a bit of advantage.
Jones will draw another tough assignment of edge rusher T.J. Watt when the Browns face the Steelers in Monday Night Football for Week 2. Watt has 15 career sacks against the Browns.
C Ethan Pocic recognizes the challenge that Jones is up against in Watt yet believes he can handle that matchup.
"T.J. is a great player and Dawand's a competitor," Pocic said. "So, it's just going to be one of those days where just come out and compete and play ball and have fun."
Head coach Kevin Stefanski said Jones has been working with offensive line coach Bill Callahan, assistant offensive line coach Scott Peters and offensive assistant coach Jonathan Decoster to prepare for his rookie season – and now his role as a starter on the offensive line at right tackle.
"There are no red shirts in the NFL, so you never know when that opportunity is going to come," Stefanski said. "It happened in the first half of the first game and you have to be ready. He will continue to get better and then as it pertains to any matchup moving forward, it's the NFL, every week is going to be very difficult. Obviously, going into Pittsburgh is tough on every team that goes into that place. So, we'll have a plan, and we'll move forward."
When Stefanski reviewed the film on Jones from Week 1 against the Bengals, he noted several positives. He also saw areas of Jones' game that can be cleaned up moving forward. Yet, Stefanski knows there can be a catch-up period when a young player is thrown into a new situation early on and believes that Jones can make those adjustments.
He's also earned that trust from his fellow offensive lineman, as Jones has improved through training camp and their four preseason games. Pocic said that Jones asks questions in meetings and looks for ways to improve each day. And they have taken notice of his improvements. There is a bit of brotherhood among the offensive lineman, which Pocic noted when he came to Cleveland last season and thinks it can help Jones as he navigates this new role.
"We're all best friends with each other and we're so tight sometimes we don't even have to communicate verbally," Pocic said. "And we're tight on the field. Tight off the field. Those are my guys."
Stefanski believes that Conklin can also still be a mentor to Jones throughout his rookie season once he returns from surgery and is back in the building.
"It's hard to describe if you're not in the building every single day, the impact that guys like Jack have on your team," Stefanski said. "And it can be very subtle. It can be in meeting rooms. It can be in the weight room. It can be out on the practice field. So, we'll miss him while he's getting healthy, but then we're going to need his butt back here to help."