Undrafted WR Derrick Willies making a couple of big transitions in pursuit of roster spot

Derrick Willies has heard his name called quite a few times since training camp began in July.

Browns offensive coordinator Todd Haley is vocal on the practice field, coaching Willies, an undrafted free agent, as hard as anyone else on the team. But Willies enjoys the feedback from his coach during practice.

"If they're not coaching you hard, it's probably an issue because they don't know you're there," Willies said. "I don't view it negatively by any means. I just take the coaching and move on with it."

Willies is a bit of a journeyman. An undrafted rookie wide receiver out of Texas Tech with a stop in Iowa before that, he came to Browns camp not knowing what his future would hold. He had known Baker Mayfield from a previous experience -- Mayfield was Willies host on his visit to Oklahoma after he left Iowa -- but Mayfield was the first pick in the draft, a stark contrast to Willies' path to Cleveland.

Coming to Cleveland was one thing. Willies wants to stay. That option might come through special teams, where Willies has been earning time throughout the preseason. He's fared well with the special teams units, even to his own surprise. 

Before the NFL, Willies had never played special teams. He was a wide receiver in Texas Tech's Air Raid offense, but now he's making the transition — to special teams, to playing where he hasn't, to an NFL scheme.

"The style of offense we had at Texas Tech and the style of offense we have here are very different," Willies said. "Just the way they call out plays and the way they learn plays, it's completely different."

He's becoming comfortable on special teams and had a tackle against the Eagles. When Mayfield threw an interception that looked like a touchdown the other way, Willies ran down Avonte Maddox, tripping him up and preserving the Cleveland shutout.

But that's not to say he still won't take advantage of an opportunity to catch the ball when it's thrown his way. His two catches against the Eagles were his first two of the preseason. Well, sort of. Willies caught two touchdown passes against the Bills in the second preseason game, but both were ultimately negated – one by penalty, the other by an official review.

The penalty took points off the board and frustrated the coaches, but Willies wasn't the one getting whistled. Penalties don't take plays off the film reel. And for a player trying to earn a roster spot, any positive film is accepted. One of his negated touchdowns — on a lob pass to the back of the end zone from Mayfield — showed his athleticism and ability to track the ball in the air. It's something that's hard to teach. Willies possesses it.

"Keep showing that you're progressing each week," Willies said. "That's what they want."

For the Browns' preseason finale in Detroit, Willies will have one more opportunity to show why he deserves to make the 53-man roster on Sept. 1.

"You're just trying to do what you can do," Willies said.

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