Greetham: Where the rookies fit

As of now, where does the coaching staff envision the Browns rookies playing? Fred provides his thoughts which of the newcomers can play critical roles in 2015.

The Browns are hoping for quality, as well as quantity.

The Browns have added two dozen rookies since the NFL Draft. They drafted more players (12) than they had since back in 2000 when they drafted 13 players. In addition, to the draft picks, the Browns invited 50 players for a tryout last weekend in the rookie minicamp.

Since the minicamp ended, the Browns signed a total of 12 undrafted rookie free agents (four originally signed and eight more after the camp). Currently, the Browns will have 24 rookies when training camp opens in late July.

Mike Pettine said most of the 2015 draft class caught the coaching staff’s attention, in one way or another.

“I think with pretty much every guy that we drafted, at some point during practice, there was a moment of, ‘Oh, that’s why we drafted him.”

All draft picks participated with the exception of tight end Randall Telfair and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who didn’t participate due to recovering from knee injuries. Wide receiver Vince Mayle was limited with a thumb injury.

Here is a capsule of what we learned from the rookie minicamp and the possible roles of each of the draft picks.

 

(1)–Danny Shelton (DL) — Being drafted so high, it is expected that Shelton will be inserted into the middle of the Browns defense.

“I was confident with the guys we had coming back,” defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said. “But am I glad we drafted Danny No. 12 overall? Hell yeah. He’s a big body who was dominant at Washington and in the PAC–12 for two years. He’s a guy that’s going to command four hands on him or two bodies on him.

“When you have that, you keep linebackers clean over top,” he said. “The thing he doesn’t get credit enough for is he’s not going to have great sack production, but he’s going to push the pocket and get the quarterback off his spot. That’s going to open things up for the rest of our pass rushers. That’s what we really needed in the pass game, somebody that could push the pocket, collapse the pocket on the quarterback.”

After two days, Shelton thinks he’ll fit right in.

“As far as the defense, I’m expecting the same thing as far as producing a run stopper,” Shelton said. “I’m also going to add to the pass rushing game. Those are the two main things I want to focus on this offseason.”

Bottom line: Shelton will likely start at nose tackle, but could be moved around and might also be used in passing downs.

(1)–Cameron Erving (OL) — Erving showed his versatility from the first day he was at minicamp as he lined up at right tackle, a position he had never played before.

“I played center and left tackle and played right tackle for the first time on a consistent basis (Friday,) but it’s all about reps.”

Erving is undaunted regarding where he plays — even if he plays guard, another position he hasn’t played.

“I haven’t (played guard), but I can,” Erving said. “. I’m an offensive lineman and I take pride in that. That’s’ not being cocky, but that’s what I do. I’m an offensive lineman.”

Pettine said the plan was to move Erving all around the line and see where he fits the best.

“We’re going to move him around. He’s going to play some on the left side tomorrow. At some point this weekend – I don’t whether it will be (Saturday) or Sunday, I’m not sure, – but we’ll probably work him some at center, as well.”?

Bottom line: Erving will likely displace John Greco or Mitchell Schwartz as a starter on the right side.

(2)–Nate Orchard (LB) — O’Neil is very excited to have Orchard on the team and he thinks he will be able to get into the rotation immediately in rushing the passer.

“Obviously, he’s going to be a great fit in the locker room,” he said. “I watched his press conference (Friday). You guys can see the charisma there. He’s dynamic against the pass. He knows how to get to the quarterback. I can’t tell you how many times (assistant offensive line coach) George DeLeone and (offensive line coach) Andy Moeller walked into my office and told me he ruined offensive line evaluations throughout the draft for tackles in the PAC–12.

“He’s gone against all the ones that were drafted,” O’Neil continued. “I think he had three sacks against some of them, four sacks against some of them. He did an outstanding job out there. He’s also a guy that’s going to help us in the run game. Some of the pass drop stuff we teach him is going to be new to him, but we’re going to throw as much at him as we can. We’ll see what he can absorb, and then we’ll start to build his skill set into our package and how we’re going to use him next year.”

Bottom line: Browns see Orchard in the mix rotating with Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo, Scott Solomon and possibly Armonty Bryant as edge rushers.

 

(3)–Duke Johnson (RB) — Johnson should help the Browns passing game out of the backfield. Last year, the Browns backs didn’t contribute a lot in the passing game and the Browns were near the bottom in the NFL in production from the backs in the passing game. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was asked if he thinks Johnson will be used in the passing game.

“Absolutely,” he said. “You should have seen the choice route he ran in the 7-on–7 period today. It was fantastic… That’s going to be something that we do. Is that something we are going to major in? We’ll see how good we get at it, but that’s something we will have in the package, yes.”

Tabor said he expects Johnson to contribute as a kick returner, as well.

“We’re excited about Duke,” Tabor said. “Obviously, his first couple years there at the University of Miami he was a great kick returner. We feel that he had that ability and he’s developing as a punt returner. We’re excited about, hopefully, what we can do with him. Duke’s going to get a lot of opportunities.”

Johnson thinks he will be used in a lot of ways.

“I think they are going to use me in all different ways from special teams to routes out of the backfield, lining up as a slot receiver, just doing different things and creating mismatches to help this offense go.”

Bottom line: Johnson will be in the mix to carry the ball but is the leading candidate to be the third down back to start. He also might be the first kick returner.

 

(3)–Xavier Cooper (DL) – O’Neil said that Cooper was a player the defensive coaches had a very high grade on. Thus far, they say, he has been everything the coaches envisioned when they drafted him.

“We see him as what we call a ‘big end’ or a d-tackle,” O’Neil said. “I see him as an explosive guy off the line of scrimmage that can get into the backfield and be disruptive. His first-step quickness is unbelievable. I think if you ask me or if you ask Weave (defensive line coach Anthony Weaver), our D-line coach, we thought he had probably the best first step of interior linemen in the draft. We had him ranked, as a coaching staff, very high. We were shocked that he was there and the bottom of the third round. We were pretty excited when the trade happened in the draft and we went to go get him.”

Bottom line: To hear O’Neil talk, Cooper is likely to be in the starting rotation, being used both inside and outside.

 
(4)–Ibraheim Campbell (DB) — Campbell was drafted as a possible replacement for Jim Leonhard, who retired, as the third safety. He will likely backup Tashaun Gipson and Donte Whitner at both positions.

Pettine was asked what he liked about Campbell.

“Production, experience, very intelligent,” Pettine said. “Then, we did get an opportunity to go out and work him out. He was very impressive there, as well.”

Bottom line: Browns think Campbell can be the third safety and will be developed as a possible replacement for Whitner down the road.

(4)–Vince Mayle (WR) — It came out of the minicamp that Mayle will need surgery to repair a broken thumb.

“I’m not going to catch,” Mayle said after the first practice. “I’m not going to grab anything. I’m just going to run my routes. Everything’s all right. It’s just a little sore. I broke my thumb a while back, so it’s still getting healthy again.”

Mayle wore a red jersey during the practices.

“We’re going to address it after this camp,” Pettine said. “It should not be an issue in the fall. We wanted him to come out, just see how it was, test it. Found out real quick yesterday that there’s still some lingering pain there. So, we’re going to go ahead and get it corrected. We expect him back full for training camp.”

Bottom line: Mayle didn’t get off to a good start coming into to camp with a broken thumb. He wasn’t able to show much what he can do in catching the football. He is having surgery and might not be able to do much until training camp.

(6)–Charles Gaines (DB) — Gaines played cornerback in the minicamp and will provide depth at the position, but special team coordinator Chris Tabor sees Gaines as a contributor in the return game as a kick returner.

“Gaines put up good numbers, and he has an opportunity himself,” Tabor said. I think it’ll all play out, and I think one of the big things, will be in the preseason giving those guys opportunities and kind of getting a feel for it when there’s 11 guys coming after him and ‘I have to hit the ball up in there’ and essentially having that NASCAR mentality of running fearless.”

Bottom line: Drafted as a higher value than a sixth-round pick, but will likely have to make the team because of his special teams play. He also can contribute as a return man.

(6)–Malcolm Johnson (FB) — It’s hard to know how DeFilippo will use the fullback. Last year, the Browns alternated undrafted free agents Ray Agnew and Kiero Small throughout the season, but they weren’t valued enough to finish the season on the roster.

Bottom line: Johnson is the only fullback the team drafted and is versatile enough to play tight end, H-back, as well as fullback. He will likely be the team’s fullback, should they use one. The Browns courted a similar player in free agency in James Casey, but opted to draft Johnson.

(6)–Randall Telfer (TE) — Telfer didn’t take part in the rookie minicamp as he is still recovering from a knee injury he suffered late in the college football season.

Bottom line: The Browns need a primary blocking tight end. Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray are adequate in the blocking game and can catch passes, but Rob Housler is primarily a receiving tight end.

(7)–Hayes Pullard (LB) — Pullard will be battling to be the fourth inside linebacker, but has a chance to make an impact on special teams.

Bottom line: Pullard wasn’t talked much about during camp, but has a good chance to make the team as a special teams player. He also can provide depth at inside linebacker behind Karlos Dansby, Craig Robertson and Chris Kirksey.

(7)–Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (DB) — Ekpre-Olomu did not take part in the rookie minicamp as he’s recovering from a torn ACL and dislocated knee. He might not be ready to play in 2015, but O’Neil thinks he will recover and be a great player for the Browns.

“I have been a huge Ifo fan for two years,” O’Neil said. “To me, he’s a first-round corner. He had a very serious knee injury, which we all know. You probably wouldn’t take most guys that had that injury in the draft, but after we brought him in and got to know him, there’s just no doubt he’s going to rebound from it. He’s that type of kid, and he’s got that type of drive. To me, it was a steal.”

Bottom line: Likely going to be a red-shirt year for Ekpre-Olomu, but with his upside that would be worth the wait.

Here are the undrafted rookie free agents the Browns have signed: TE Emmanuel Bibbs (Iowa), WR Paul Browning (Colorado St.), DB Landon Feichter (Purdue), TE Kevin Haplea (Florida St.), WR Darius Jennings (Virginia), RB Luke Lundy (Ottawa), LB Rodman Noel (North Carolina St.), DB Brandon Stephens (Miami, OH), DL Dylan Wynn (Oregon St.), DB De’Ante Saunders (Tennessee St.), OL Darrian Miller (Kentucky) and OL Tyler Loos (Northern Illinois).

Bottom line: The Browns are hoping out of this group that players like Taylor Gabriel, Isaiah Crowell or K’Waun Williams emerge as the trio did in the 2014 training camp.


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