Rookie tight end Seth DeValve described himself as a sponge earlier this season, taking in as much as he could through a trying year that saw a youthful Browns team grow up on the fly.
And DeValve, the fourth-round draft pick from Princeton, found himself as one of several youngsters with a significant role in 2016. When it was over, he caught 10 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns, including a 12-yard score in an overtime loss to Pittsburgh this past weekend.
"I think many of us, if not all of us, contributed in some big ways," he said. "I had some key roles on the team and made some big plays in crucial moments this season."
Now, with the offseason in full swing, DeValve said he's ready to take on a larger part in Cleveland's growing offense.
"I always want to do more. I tend to leave a game after it's over thinking, 'Gosh I wish I could've done more and I think that time will come for me. I've got to get better in a lot of areas — and I will — and I'll work to get better."
Perhaps most of all, DeValve said he's cherishing being healthy for the first time in a year. He was limited by a hamstring injury in rookie minicamp, something he believes was the consequence of postseason foot surgery following his senior year at Princeton.
"Being a good football player is about repetition and taking a lot of reps and missing those reps early on was hard because you just get better by playing football," he said, "and when I finally got to put a consistent stretch together was when I started getting better as a football player."
He added: "I felt like I actually got healthier as the season went on because I didn't start the season healthy. I knew getting that surgery right after the season was cutting it close and it turned out to set me back a little bit earlier in the season."
Eventually, DeValve started to get healthy. He scored his first NFL touchdown in November against the Ravens on Thursday Night Football, a 25-yard pass to give the Browns a halftime lead in Baltimore. He saw his snaps increase and his role grow.
DeValve — who was mostly used as a slot receiver or wing back in college — also grew as a blocker, which was something of a new dynamic for him. "There were a lot of things that I got away with in college technique-wise that were not right because I was one of the biggest guys in the Ivy League," he said.
"Blocking guys in the NFL is a little bit different and my technique was exposed a little bit. I think the biggest place I needed to improve and have improved is blocking technique. That is an area that I need to continue to take jumps to be a bigger contributor on the team."
"The future is very, very bright for him. I'm pleased that he's coming along as a blocker. I had expected that we would see him emerge as a receiving threat because of his background, but he's going to have to be able to play in the run game, too, and he's doing that," tight ends coach Greg Seamon said.
"He's making great progress. It's good that we have him out there every day now. The future is very bright for Seth."
And DeValve, who said he'll take some time to recover and decompress back home in Manchester, Conn., before heading to New Jersey to train, is looking forward to finally being injury-free.
"Going into this offseason healthy for me is going to be so crucial," he said. "I'm going to come back way better than I came in as a rookie."