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Updates from Week 4
Not a lot left to learn at quarterback for the Browns. With Deshaun Watson set to miss 11 games, Jacoby Brissett will start for the team to open the season, and Joshua Dobbs will likely stay on as Brissett's backup. Brissett played most of the first half of the final preseason game against the Bears. He went 13 of 23 for 109 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. It was a less-than-inspiring performance, but coach Kevin Stefanski didn’t seem to mind much. “I think he played well,” Stefanski said. “Obviously, we would have wanted to move the ball more consistently as an offense early, just not getting first downs. In terms of what we asked him to do, getting us into the correct plays, seeing the defense, and delivering the ball on time, I thought he did a good job.” Dobbs was first in relief and went 11 of 20 for 89 yards but threw a touchdown. Albeit the touchdown was against the Bears' backups. It was a rocky camp for Josh Rosen, but he did play pretty to well to end the preseason, completing 4 of 6 passes for 42 yards. The only locks here are Watson and Brissett, and Cleveland may be a player for a quarterback after other teams make their cuts this week.
Neither Nick Chubb nor Kareem Hunt played a down in the preseason. Trade rumors have circled Hunt since he asked for a new contract, but this week it was all but confirmed that the team had no intention of trading him. He and Chubb form one of the better running back tandems in the league. Behind them, we’ve seen solid preseason play from D’Ernest Johnson, Jerome Ford, and John Kelly. Kevin Stefanski spoke highly of Johnson after his 7 carries, 29 yards effort against the Bears. “I like what I have seen from D’Ernest from the minute I got this job. He does what he is supposed to do. He is accountable to his teammates. He always makes sure that he knows what to do and plays at a high level, so he has done a nice job.” Johnson and Ford are sure to make the roster along with Demetric Felton. Felton can play both running back and wide receiver, and he served as both throughout training camp. That means Kelly, the team’s leading rusher this preseason, will likely be cut this week.
Like the top running backs, the Browns’ best wide receiver, Amari Cooper, did not play in the preseason. Cooper is the unquestioned top receiver on this team and had nothing to prove in August. It was not the best preseason for Anthony Schwartz, as he battled injuries while fighting to climb the depth chart. His performance against Chicago did not help his cause. Schwartz was credited for three drops in the game, giving him six drops in the preseason. Brissett addressed his trust in Schwartz after the game, saying, “As you saw, I kept going back to him because of the confidence I do have in him,” Brissett said. “Look, it’s part of the game. It’s nothing to beat him up about.” Schwartz finished with one catch for eight yards. With Donovan Peoples-Jones likely to start opposite Cooper, this performance might have moved Schwartz down to fourth wide receiver duties, behind rookie David Bell. Bell caught three balls for 36 yards in the game and finished the preseason as the Browns’ leading receiver. After the game, Coach Stefanski said that Schwartz’s roster spot was not in jeopardy. With the top four receivers all but decided, Javon Wims and Mike Harley are probably competing for the roster spots vacated by the injured Jakeem Grant.
We didn't see much of David Njoku or Harrison Bryant in the preseason, but both played against the Bears and put together good games. Njoku caught three passes for 34 yards, and Bryant added two catches for 15 yards. In practice, both had been redzone threats, but with the starting offense sputtering against Chicago, neither was targeted inside the 20 this week. The biggest headline for tight ends this week might have been David Njoku courting his friend Odell Beckham Jr to return to the Browns.
It is not a good look for the defense when the opposing offense scores on three first-half drives, even in a preseason game. While the Browns were without many starters, including both top corners and defensive ends, and the secondary got torched without them. All three Chicago scores were through the air. Starting safety Grant Delpit left the game with a hip injury, and cornerback Greedy Williams had a terrible game. While all starters are expected to be ready to play in Week 1, this was a reminder that depth is not one of the defense’s strong points.
A torn Achilles for return specialist Jakeem Grant has left Cleveland with few options on special teams. Demetric Felton and Anthony Schwartz could possibly field returns, as could Mike Harley Jr. (provided he makes the team), but Cleveland could still look to add a veteran returner before the season kicks off.
Updates from Week 3
The biggest news at quarterback is the resolution to the Deshaun Watson suspension saga. The NFL has suspended the Browns' starting quarterback for 11 games with a $5 million fine. Because the suspension is not for the entire season, Watson is eligible to continue practicing with the team and playing in preseason games, though he did not appear against the Eagles this week. It hasn’t been the best preseason for Jacoby Brissett, but the Browns insist they are comfortable with him as the starting quarterback while Watson is out. Brissett also sat out the game against Philadelphia, while Joshua Dobbs and Josh Rosen split time equally. Dobbs outplayed Rosen, though both could make the final roster while the team waits for Watson to return. That is unless the team adds a new quarterback to the mix. Cleveland continues to be a popular landing spot for Jimmy Garoppolo rumors, which the team has denied.
With no starters playing in the preseason game, it was a quiet week for the big-name running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Hunt was dealing with some injuries but nothing serious. After one joint practice, Eagles defender Fletcher Cox spoke highly of the Browns’ running game. Cox said, “We don’t see a whole, whole lot of running from under center and they have two really, really good running backs. And we have really good running backs, so it’s good to see the style they use to run the ball, the way they run the ball, the pace they have when they run the ball, it’s unique.” John Kelly led the Browns in rushing against the Eagles, but in such a crowded backfield, he is likely auditioning for another team. Of the running backs that will make the final roster, rookie Jerome Ford made the most impact in the game. Ford finished with nine carries for 31 yards and four receptions for another 26 yards. He also handled some kickoff duties in practice this week, but not during the game. Demetric Felton is still being used at both running back and wide receiver but played more with the running backs this week.
Throughout training camp, it has been increasingly clear that Amari Cooper is the best wide receiver the Browns have and will be a favorite target in the offense. Cooper doesn’t appear as worried as others when it comes to having Brissett as his starting quarterback, saying, “You can tell he’s a veteran. The thing I really like about Jacoby is he really understands concepts from a receiver’s perspective. That makes it easy to communicate well.” With neither Cooper nor Donovan Peoples-Jones playing on Sunday, it was time for the younger wide receivers to establish themselves as a true third option. With Jakeem Grant done for the year, it will be down to Anthony Schwartz and rookie David Bell to carve out a role in the offense. Schwartz was quiet, reeling in two balls for just 20 yards. Bell had a better outing, with three receptions for 46 yards. Both will make the team, but it is still unclear which will be the third wide receiver.
There was a big focus on red zone work with Jacoby Brissett this week, and one beneficiary was David Njoku. In one of the joining practices with the Eagles, Njoku scored touchdowns in consecutive drives. It was a quiet week for Harrison Bryant, who had been utilized in the redzone often to this point. He is still a starter for this offense and did not play against the Eagles, but his role could be smaller if Njoku continues to play well inside the 20s
It was a rough week of practice for the Browns' defense. In joint practices with the Eagles, they were missing starting corners Denzel Ward and Greg Newsom, plus Myles Garrett missed an early practice with an excused absence to tend to a sick family member. Without their best playmakers, the Eagles were matchup nightmares, specifically AJ Brown and Dallas Goedert. Neither team planned to play their starters in the game, so it didn't translate much to the Sunday night matchup, but it will be essential to have all of them ready to go come Week 1. Garrett was back with the team by the end of the week. The trend of defensive linemen knocking down passes, specifically Jadeveon Clowney, continued into the third week of camp. The Browns' defense is shaping up to create a lot of problems for quarterbacks when all pieces are healthy.
Both starting center Nick Harris and seventh-round rookie Dawson Deaton suffered severe knee injuries in camp. Harris only had two NFL starts in his career, neither at center. Enter Ethan Pocic, a former second-round pick from Seattle. Pocic is far larger (6-foot-6) than Harris (6-foot-1) and has 40 career starts. Pocic, however, only pass protects at a replacement level. Brock Hoffman, a mauling undrafted rookie from Virginia Tech, is the other center. Pivot woes aside, this is a solid run-blocking group.
Updates from Week 2
First, we'll look at Watson's off-the-field news. Watson's teams publically offered a settlement of an eight-game suspension with a $5-million fine, which the NFL refused. This led to speculation that both sides are confident that Watson's six-game suspension will be lengthened. With no further clarity regarding Watson's suspension, the team started him in their first preseason game. Whether it was nerves or rust, Watson never found his rhythm. He failed to gain a first down and completed just one pass in three drives. His first throw sailed a few feet over the head of Anthony Schwartz on a designed rollout to the left. If Watson's suspension expires during the 2022 season, he will have two much-needed weeks of practice to build chemistry. In the meantime, Jacoby Brissett will start, although the team reportedly would entertain trading for Jimmy Garoppolo. Brissett was a healthy scratch but will play in the team's third preseason game. Joshua Dobbs leads the way behind Brissett, with Josh Rosen looking like the odd man out of the room.
Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt remain atop the depth chart, though Kareem Hunt is still unhappy with his salary. Hunt requested a trade following his hold-in, where he only participated in individual drills. The Browns denied his request, and he was quickly back to team drills. This occurrence happened after the team introduced sets with Chubb and Hunt on the field together, indicating the offense would heavily involve Hunt. The two sat out the preseason opener.
Behind Chubb and Hunt, D'Ernest Johnson and Jerome Ford continue to battle for a role. Ford recently flashed receiving skills and had strung together multiple impressive performances. He took the lead and separated himself from Johnson in Friday's game, rushing eleven times for 58 yards and a score and adding four receptions for 46 yards and another score. His patient, shifty running style was reminiscent of Chubb, as he bounced multiple runs outside the tackles and got to the edge for significant gains. Johnson carried the ball three times for zero yards.
According to Zac Jackson, when Amari Cooper sees the field during the regular season, there's no reason he won't see at least 13 targets per game. At face value, that looks like praise for Cooper. Beneath the surface, it indicates just how bad the pass catchers have been for Cleveland. Anthony Schwartz's first possession drop encapsulated that point. Cooper and fellow starter Donovan Peoples-Jones sat out of the Week 1 game but led the receiver room on the first unofficial depth chart. David Bell is pushing for the No. 3 receiver role and, with Jakeem Grant's Achilles injury, likely leads in that battle. Grant was the starting slot receiver and a significant piece of the return game. His absence could alter plans with the final roster, giving Demetric Felton a better chance to make the team.
Bell could work his way into the No. 2 role, with his inside-outside versatility giving him the advantage over Peoples-Jones to stay on the field in specific packages. Bell has impressed, flashing the solid and reliable hands that made him a day-two draft pick. He didn't play in the preseason opener, despite dressing.
David Njoku is struggling to catch the football. Jake Trotter and Zac Jackson have noted the struggles with his hands and route separation. Watson consistently targets him, but the connection has not yet come to fruition. Njoku did catch a ball for seven yards in the preseason opener. Behind Njoku sits Harrison Bryant, who took advantage of Njoku's absence earlier in the week. Bryant will see the field often, with the Browns being a heavy 12-personnel (one running back and two tight ends) team. With the lack of depth at receiver and Njoku's struggles, Bryant is an intriguing name to monitor if Watson were to return. The battle for the No. 3 tight end heated up Friday night, with Nakia Griffin-Stewart snagging three catches for 37 yards and Miller Forristall catching one ball for eleven yards.
Rookie fourth-round pick Cade York continues to make the Browns happy, converting all three extra-point tries and a 31-yard field goal in the preseason opener. York also made a 45-yard pick to end practice early on August 7, which made his teammates carry him off the field on their shoulders.
While the defensive backs have been putting on a show in practice, the edge group stepped up in the Week 1 game. The Browns recorded five sacks, with seventh-round pick Isaiah Thomas logging two. The defensive backs also impressed, with rookie M.J. Emerson jumping a route and prying the ball from the intended receiver for a 74-yard pick-six. The Browns' success in 2022 will rely heavily on the defensive performances, and defensive coordinator Joe Woods has them headed in the right direction.
The Browns' presumed return specialist, Jakeem Grant, tore his Achilles in camp and will spend the 2022 season on injured reserve. Ja'Marcus Bradley was the first player to get a crack at the job in Grant's absence, but he made a few poor decisions in the team's first preseason game, and Demetric Felton, D'Ernest Johnson, and Anthony Schwartz will also get chances in the coming weeks.
Updates from Week 1
While the NFL is still working out how many games they will suspend Deshaun Watson, the Browns will treat him as their starting quarterback. Since he is not suspended for the entire season, Watson is eligible to participate in all of training camp and preseason games. Watson runs about 80% of the first-team drills, with the other 20% going to Jacoby Brissett. Watson looks the far better quarterback, with almost every highlight touchdown coming from him. Brissett struggled up to this point, and there is no indication of how they will handle quarterback reps in the preseason games. Josh Rosen was added for depth but is misfiring some basic throws and may struggle to make the team.
At the start of camp, a few offensive sets showcased Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt on the field together. The Browns know that playing your most talented players is essential and want to see how they can utilize both. For his part, Hunt held a two-day hold in hoping for a new contract though he continued to participate in individual workouts. He then asked for a trade, but the team declined. If Hunt misses time, rookie Jerome Ford seems ready to fill in if needed. He is showing value as a pass-catcher, which would be critical if the team is without Hunt. Interestingly, head coach Kevin Stefanski listed second-year running back Demetric Felton as one of the primary backup wide receivers. Felton bounced between running back and wide receiver in last year’s camp but played primarily as a running back a year ago.
Injuries have been the story of camp for the receivers. Amari Cooper missed time but was able to return from an ankle injury. There's already good chemistry between Cooper and Watson. Anthony Schwartz and David Bell also missed a few days during Week 1, and rookie Michael Woods is taking advantage of the opportunity, making highlight reel catches almost every day. Unfortunately, Woods suffered a hamstring injury late in the week and is likely to miss a significant amount of time. With all these injuries, the one constant was Donovan Peoples-Jones. Peoples-Jones was a 2021 camp star and came into 2022 with that same energy, scoring multiple touchdowns, sometimes on the same day. Outside of Peoples-Jones, the Browns were forced to play many wide receivers with the starters. Jakeem Grant looks eager to prove he is more than just a return man, and the Browns are using him in many creative ways. Stefanski said of Grant, "He is an electric player. He's fast. Certainly, somebody who we would love to use as we get into the regular season."
David Njoku and Harrison Bryant will see significant playing time. While Njoku is the full-time starter, the two will be used in tandem, especially in the redzone, where Bryant is being featured. Even David Njoku was heaping praise at his teammate, "Oh my God, night and day," Njoku said of Bryant. "Even when he came here as a rookie, he was very, very good. Each day, you can see his route-running, the catching, the blocking — everything. Overall, as a tight end, he's improving every single day."
Rookie fourth-round pick Cade York was a consistent standout in training camp with two 6-for-6 days on field goal attempts, including makes from 48 and 51 yards. The team should not need to bring in any competition with no second thoughts about turning their kicking game over to the rookie.
Since there have not been many padded practices, the talk of the defense was the cornerbacks. Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome II are locked in as starters, but there could be a battle for the 3rd corner spot. With Ward on the PUP list, Greedy Williams played in his stead. Williams brings the draft capital but so far isn’t playing well. Meanwhile, A.J. Green was impressive while playing in nickel and dime sets. Green was playing outside when Newsome slide in to cover slot receivers. The team wants to focus on turnovers, and Green seems to be leading the charge. Rookie Martin Emerson Jr also made some plays, putting further pressure on Williams. The defensive line is playing well, as Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney broke up multiple passes.