With the first week of training camp complete, the latest rendition of the Cleveland Browns is starting to take shape.
But questions still surround this franchise at every level.
This week, the team’s quarterback situation came into focus, but how those signal-callers will be utilized hasn’t. Robert Griffin III will be the starter moving forward, while Josh McCown's status with the team remains open-ended. There is more to both of these situations than being publicly discussed.
Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.
- The Browns aren’t actively shopping McCown, but the front office is willing to listen to offers. The 37-year-old veteran is an asset, and the organization will use him in whatever capacity it deems best. And, yes, a trade is still a possibility. However, the team isn’t going to settle for any offer. A late-round pick won’t be enough to move the consummate pro. In order to get something done, another organization will likely need to offer a mid-round or a conditional pick to strike a deal. Otherwise, the Browns are content with their current quarterback depth chart.
- What will the Browns offense actually look like this year? “It looks like a college offense,” a source stated. Technically, that’s not entirely correct. The best way to describe Hue Jackson’s vision for this year’s offense is it will rely heavily on college concepts. Fans can expect plenty of tempo, spread formations, run-pass options, half-field reads, zone read, smoke routes, quick hitters and gadget plays with a power running game included. The offensive staff hasn’t shown much of its playbook to the fans or media, but it’s quietly implementing all of these aspects.
- When Art Briles visited Berea Tuesday, the former Baylor Bears coach said he did so to see “his guys.” After all, the Browns feature four prominent members from the Bears program in Griffin, Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman and Spencer Drango. Despite the coach’s recent circumstances, he’s still a great offensive mind, and it became an opportunity for the Browns staff to pick his brain. For example, some fans might view my earlier statement of college passing concepts coupled with a power running game as an oxymoron. In reality, Baylor tied for second overall in rushing yards per game last season. It’s due, in part, to spreading the field from sideline-to-sideline, while still being very physical in a trenches with a downhill running scheme. A similar approach should be expected in Cleveland.
- Could the Browns offense feature an all-rookie right side? It’s possible. Veteran John Greco returned to practice Thursday after dealing with a hamstring, while both rookies continue to work at right tackle. In fact, Drango replaced Alvin Bailey and saw time with the first team during Thursday’s practice. The organization is very high on both young prospects. The front office and staff sees a world of potential in Shon Coleman, and Drango has been consistent since Day 1. If Cameron Erving doesn’t work out at center, the possibility of moving Greco to center still exists with both rookies starting on the strong side.
- On defense, the Browns seem determined to sink or swim with Justin Gilbert in the secondary. Gilbert’s performance through the first week of camp has been highly inconsistent. At times, he looks like a former top-10 pick. Other times, he makes mistakes a professional cornerback just shouldn’t make. However, he’s consistently gotten reps in an attempt to develop his raw ability. With Joe Haden — when healthy — Tramon Williams, Jamar Taylor, K'Waun Williams and even Gilbert seemingly entrenched, this leaves far less of an opportunity for the other young cornerbacks on the roster.
- With the team’s current cornerback rotation relatively set, Pierre Desir is being used at safety. As the Orange and Brown Report previously reported, this move has been in the works for some time. It’s an adjustment for the small-school cornerback, who didn’t pick up the game until high school. Desir could end up a victim of the numbers game if he doesn’t excel in multiple roles, which could hurt his overall value to other teams around the league.
- Desir isn’t the only young player making a position switch. This year’s second-round pick, Emmanuel Ogbah, returned to defensive end due to Desmond Bryant’s season-ending pectoral injury. This will be beneficial on two fronts. First and foremost, Ogbah is far more comfortable at defensive end—even if he’s playing 5-technique in a base three-man front. He’ll still be used as outside linebacker in certain situations, but it won’t be his primary position. This could actually help his learning curve. The rookie will be used differently from Bryant—he’ll be more of an edge player in sub-packages instead of moving inside—but expectations shouldn’t be tempered because of the move. If anything, there is more of an opportunity for the Oklahoma State product to make an impact.
- The ripple effects of Ogbah’s move will also be felt at outside linebacker. Barkevious Mingo could be the biggest beneficiary. Clearly, Mingo hasn’t lived up to expectations after being the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. The LSU product finally dedicated himself to adding bulk this offseason, but he still needed a chance to prove himself. That opportunity should come with Ogbah’s vacated reps. Being stuck on the depth chart behind Ogbah, Paul Kruger and Nate Orchard certainly wasn’t ideal. With Armonty Bryant also serving a suspension, defensive coordinator Ray Horton will need to rely on Mingo. How the 25-year-old defender responds will determine his future with the organization.
- Desmond Bryant’s injury also prompted the organization to sign veteran defensive lineman Nick Hayden. Considering the circumstances, his addition is about as good as anyone could expect. After all, he’s 30 years old, started 47 games over the last three seasons and can play multiple positions. However, there’s a reason he was still available in late July: He graded very poorly during his time as a Dallas Cowboys starter. Hayden is accountable and does the dirty work in the middle, but he’s not particularly tough against the run and provides very little to nothing on passing downs.
- All eyes now shift to Danny Shelton. His play becomes key with Des Bryant out of the lineup. A team’s ability to create pressure doesn’t simply fall on the edge rushers. A defense must be able to collapse the pocket to apply consistent pressure. This is where Des Bryant excelled. No one else on the roster previously displayed similar ability. Shelton has the potential to do so as long as he keeps his weight down and improves his technique. Browns defensive line coach Robert Nunn summed it up best, per the team’s official site, “When I first walked in the door, I told Danny he could change the way we play defense himself just by buying in, getting himself in great condition and playing with a hot motor.” The version of Shelton that showed up last year is no longer acceptable. Last year’s first-round pick needs to show he’s capable of developing into a three-down defender.