Young Browns poised for growth spurt after learning on the fly

Many Browns rookies spent much of the 2016 season learning on the fly.

Now, as Cleveland reflects on a 1-15 season with the offseason underway, the hope is that the league's youngest team — one buoyed by one of the team's largest-ever draft classes — continues to trend in the right direction.

'We had an extremely young team this year. I think more than 25 percent of our snaps were taken by rookies, which was not only the most in the league but the most in the league at any time in the last four years and by a pretty wide margin," chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta said.

"That is what Hue and his staff were working with every week, and we basically had a lot of freshmen out there trying to learn the NFL game on the fly and not playing on special teams necessarily or not playing a specialty role but playing all the time. We had a lot of players doing that. That is tough to do.

"As those players mature into sophomores and juniors, so to speak, I think they will make tremendous improvements. I think that is one of the reasons for our optimism. We got those players an awful lot of experience this year. We saw them grow as the season went on, and I think we will expect to see them grow even more next year, but they do take time."

Indeed, Year One produced a mixed bag of results for the Browns, who added 14 players in this past spring's draft and saw at least 19 first-year players contribute to various degrees.

Defensive end/linebacker and second-round draft pick Emmanuel Ogbah led the team with 5.5 sacks. Wide receiver and first-rounder Corey Coleman had a breakout game against the Ravens in Week 2 before a broken hand sidelined him for six weeks. Quarterback and third-round pick Cody Kessler started eight games, completing 66 percent of his passes for 1,380 yards, six touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Safety and fourth-round pick Derrick Kindred earned a starting job until he suffered a broken ankle during the bye week. Cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun, whom the Browns picked up off waivers in September, was one of three NFL rookies to have three interceptions. Tight end and fourth-round pick Seth DeValve caught two touchdowns on 10 receptions. Left guard and fifth-rounder Spencer Drango started nine games this season when injuries took a toll on Cleveland's offensive line.

The Browns, who hold the first and 12th overall picks and five in the top 65 this year, will look to keep building that nucleus of young players. There's also an expectation those on the roster continue to improve and expand their roles going forward.

"Some of the guys that have started fast may end slowing down. Some of the guys that started slow will speed up. We are pleased with what we have seen from them and their work ethic and what they're doing coming in," executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown said.

"They as a group understand the significance of how large the draft class was, and they want to be part of what is going to be a turnaround here. We think a lot of them are on their way, and there is a lot more improvement for each of them."

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