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Things we learned during Browns training camp

By DAN LABBE • Aug 22, 2019 at 5:15 PM

BEREA — When is the last time a Browns offense kept defensive coordinators up at night?

Three years ago, they never scored more than 30 points in a game — managing 13 or fewer points eight times. In 2017, they scored fewer than 20 points 12 times and scored in single digits four times.

Even last season, the offense wasn't consistently a juggernaut. They won a game in Denver by scoring 17. They beat Baltimore with 12 points and scored 13 against the Texans.

This offense this year — it’s going to be a problem.

There are things that could slow it down. Right guard is unsettled. Greg Robinson still has to prove himself at left tackle. Antonio Callaway is going to miss the first four games.

But what we saw throughout training camp was an offense that hummed around Baker Mayfield. His accuracy, combined with the weapons at his disposal, is something that will have defenses scrambling.

It won’t always be perfect. There will be weeks where things are just a little off or turnovers pop up or the opposing defense is just really good, but the potential of this offense is real.

That’s one thing we learned over 19 days of training camp. Here are 18 more:

2. This is clearly Mayfield’s team

There’s no doubt about it. He was engaged throughout camp and his leadership was on full display.

Sometimes, he was instructive. Other times, he got vocal, letting receivers who didn't finish on scramble drills hear it. Sometimes he was just another one of the guys, running all the way down the field last week during joint practices with the Colts to celebrate a long Nick Chubb run.

He was in control when he stood at the podium answering questions. He shotgunned a beer at an Indians game. He’s embraced his face of the franchise role and the city has embraced him.

Welcome to having a franchise quarterback, and a fun one at that.

3. Buy Nick Chubb stock

Actually, it’s probably too late. It's too expensive now.

It has been obvious from the early days of camp that he is poised for a huge year. He showed off his patience as a runner over and over, but when he makes his decision and cuts, watch out. What he did after the Carlos Hyde trade last season was no fluke.

4. Who's behind Chubb?

Dontrell Hilliard has had a nice spring and summer. He’s also never carried the ball in a regular-season game. It doesn’t mean he can’t. It just means he hasn’t. We’ll see how he handles a bigger role. I think he’s ready.

D’Ernest Johnson can make things interesting over the final two preseason games. If he plays well, he could make it hard to sneak him through waivers and get him to the practice squad.

5. Schobert quietly put together a nice camp

The linebacker forced turnovers and made sure that, even while Mack Wilson was trying to bear down, there was no question that he is the staring Mike in this defense. The young guys never even got a shot to play with the first-team defense.

I’m not sure what the future holds for Schobert with free agency after this season — and you never put anything past John Dorsey — but kudos to him for not wavering when competition was brought in behind him.

6. Greedy Williams might not start Week 1

Williams' situation is different from Denzel Ward’s a year ago.

Ward was the No. 4 pick in the draft. That’s a player who needs to start. Williams was the No. 46 pick, not even the first cornerback taken and wasn’t considered the top corner in his draft class. There are good, experienced players on this roster at his position. If we have to be a little patient with Williams, that’s OK.

7. What can be Ward's Year 2 ceiling?

I’m excited to see what Ward does in Year No. 2. The only concern I have is health. If he can stay on the field, he has a chance to develop into a shutdown corner and, when you have that, it makes the rest of your secondary better.

8. The importance of being Carrie

Elsewhere in the secondary, T.J. Carrie has been out with a hamstring, but don’t underestimate his importance to this whole thing. His versatility was super valuable in 2018 when injuries hit the defensive backs room. He’s likely the frontrunner to start at nickel right now.

9. Mitchell just keeps improving

Mitchell is one of my favorite stories on this roster. A former seventh-round pick who has spent time in Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City, including on practice squads, came in a year ago and won a starting job. He’s come in this year and held off Williams and, if the Browns played a real game tomorrow, he’d line up at corner across from Ward.

10. The surprise of Whitehead

Bet you didn’t have Whitehead as a potential difference maker when the Browns added him in the middle of last season. He is the Browns’ extra safety who was praised by secondary coach Joe Whitt for his smarts. He’s a key piece for the versatility this defense wants to show.

He has been out this week with a groin injury, but don’t be surprised, if healthy, to see him on the field with Morgan Burnett and Damarious Randall on the first defensive play of the season if the Browns run their 4-2-5 package.

11. Eric Murray adds secondary depth

If Whitehead isn’t ready to go, Murray, brought in from the Chiefs, would be his replacement. It’s not a bad thing to have a guy who has appeared in 45 games and started 11 and who can play nickel and safety hanging around just in case.

12. Quiet camps are often good camps

At least that can be the case for certain players. Count Demetrious Randall among them. He showed up and performed and stayed healthy and that’s what you want from one of your defensive linchpins.

13. Once the right guard, now the center

Austin Corbett’s fall is concerning. I thought it was a red flag when he was unable to seize the job out of the spring. The Browns, for now, have gone with Eric Kush’s experience in that spot.

Corbett is stuck at backup center and playing deep into preseason games. There’s a scenario where he develops into the heir apparent to JC Tretter, but that doesn’t feel very close to being reality. It would be shocking if the Browns moved on from Corbett, but you only get to keep 53 guys and there’s not a lot of wiggle room on a suddenly talented roster. 

14. A season-long test for Robinson

There’s a lot of pressure on the Browns' left tackle. The depth behind him is questionable. This could become one of the great career turnaround stories in the league, or it could have the potential to throw a wrench into the offense’s gears.

15. Confidence in Tretter and Bitonio

That said, having JC Tretter and Joel Bitonio next to each other is a huge asset. A number of successful screens featured Bitonio leading the way. Tretter, healed from his 2018 high ankle sprain, should have his mobility all the way back and that’s an important part of his game.

Offensive linemen who can move are good. Bitonio and Tretter are both that type of player.

16. Who sticks as the sixth WR?

The most fun battle so far: the bottom of the receiver depth chart. Unlike right guard and kicker, where no one is taking hold, the names involved in this battle have all made plays. Derrick Willies, Jaelen Strong, D.J. Montgomery and Ishmael Hyman have all, at some point, made a push.

Hyman has been out with a concussion and Montgomery just went on injured reserve, so the squeeze here isn't as tight. Still, Damion Ratley returned this week and he looks ready to state his case, so this battle rages on.

It feels like Strong is a strong performance on Friday night away from locking up a spot. Willies’ chances improved when Montgomery went on IR, otherwise he was teetering.

17. The DL is a deep position

You should be excited about the starting defensive line, but you should also be excited about the pieces behind them.

Genard Avery has a chance to cause chaos and Chris Smith, like Carrie in the secondary, is a really valuable veteran to have around who can play across the line.

18. Ogunjobi's backup

Devaroe Lawrence is a name to keep in mind on the interior. He’s spent time in the backfield and this is a team that can always use more depth. Larry Ogunjobi played too many snaps a season ago.

19. Who gets the boot at kicker?

My only thought on the kickers right now: It’s going to be really hard to rely on either of them, but at least Greg Joseph has won you a game.

Freddie Kitchens likes to remind us we don’t talk about the past, so it might not really matter, but if they had to go with one of the two, Joseph’s experience could win out. It would still be an uncomfortable choice and I'm still not sure if this team's kicker is on the roster right now.

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