OBJ healthy at Browns training camp
By: Pat Pitts
Mini camps breathe life back into football fans. It gave us a sample of what to expect in 2021. Teams watched their rookies take the field for the first time. Sadly, it has come to a close.
Kevin Stefanski and his staff watched their team take the field for the first time last week. Cleveland has not been talked about as much when it comes to their mini-camp. It seems like the spotlight has been taken from them, but it’s time to shine.
After their first playoff appearance since 2007, the Browns found themselves nothcing a win against division rival, the Ravens. The new coaching and front office changes have turned the organization around 180 degrees.
Mini-camp just gave the Dawg Pound a lot of excitement heading into training camp. Here is what they should be excited about.
Baker stays in the moment; focused on the present.
The offseason has brought an excessive amount of drama to the league. Star players refusing to show up because of contract issues. Former players trash-talking their former team and head coach on social media. Even worse, the league’s MVP might walk away from football to replace another MVP in the world of game shows..
Cleveland has been blessed with their franchise quarterback telling the media that he is not worried about a contract extension; he has his focus on winning a Super Bowl. Mayfield told reporters, “Everything happens for a reason. So I am just focused on winning,” according to USA Today.
Mayfield has had a rollercoaster of a career, so far. He ranked as PFF’s 8th rated QB, finally cracking inside the top ten. OBJ returns to the field, giving Mayfield an elite target to throw to. His presence causes defenses to panic over which player to cover, eventually leaving someone open. The Browns offense looks loaded heading into training camp.
OBJ returns at 100%
Odell Beckham Jr. suffered a season-ending ACL tear during a Week 7 matchup against the Bengals. It put a bow on the disappointing 2020 campaign OBJ was on. However, it is a new season.
When healthy, OBJ ranks as one of the league’s top pass catchers. There is not a pass he cannot catch. According to Browns.com, OBJ returned to the field at nearly 100% on the first day of mini-camp, eventually ending the day by attempting his signature one-handed catches.
Since 2014, Beckham has the best stats against the AFC North, averaging 128.8 YPG, and the only trails Julio Jones in total yards during the span, as well. It is not a question of if he will perform; it is a matter of when it will start.
Rookies making an instant impact
The Cleveland Browns offense ranked 14th in 2020, according to PFF. However, their defense ranked 20th. They addressed the issue by drafting two players to upgrade the bottom-tier defense. The Browns selected Greg Newsome II with the 26th pick and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah with the 56th pick. Two players who can make an immediate impact.
The duo showed up to mini-camp, impressing everyone on the coaching staff. Newsome caught the media’s attention after intercepting a pass while in the red zone during the 7v7 drills. He ran it back while the entire defense followed in celebration; the chemistry has begun to build.
Koramoah impressed the coaching staff with his quickness during pass coverage. He ran alongside some of the fastest receivers in the offense. The former defensive back turned linebacker has the edge over some of the linebackers. Joe Woods, the defensive coordinator, spoke to the media after camp about other facets of the rookies’ game that isn’t externally shown.
“Those guys are both very smart players,” Woods said. “They’re very competitive players; they just bring a different element to the team.”
The rookies are not the only upgrades to the underwhelming defense. The Browns attacked free agency methodically. They prioritized enhancing their biggest weakness.
Playmakers added to the defense
The draft is not the only route to acquire new players. NFL free agency kicked off a month before the draft, but the Browns patiently waited to strike. The signed DB John Johnson and EDGE Jadaveon Clowney; two signings that give them the much-needed boost on defense.
Greedy Williams has not played an entire season over the past two years. However, it is a new season with new opportunities. Williams spoke after camp about how he feels heading into the new season.
“It is a great feeling. I was just happy to be reunited with my team just going through drills with them,” Williams said. “It gives you the most happy moments.”
Williams returns to the defense lining up alongside Denzel Ward and John Johnson, giving the Browns top-tier talent to defend the pass. All three players are 25 years old or younger.
Jadeveon Clowney made his first appearance in a Browns uniform at camp. Stefanski plans to utilize Clowney on the EDGE with Garrett on the other side. Clowney talked with the media after camp, expressing how he has enjoyed playing alongside another number one overall pick.
“This is a good team,” Clowney told reporters. “They’re having a good time. They’re fun to be around. It’s a young team, so you all kind of get the idea of what I mean by everybody having a good time.”
Football is fun; So is the Browns’ defense.
Battle of the Backfield
Two running back systems do not have the most success over the years, but the Browns figured it out. The tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt gives opposing defenses nightmares. At mini-camp, the backfield grew in numbers
The Browns added two new ball carriers to the mix, drafting Demetric Felton with the 211th pick, then signing undrafted free agent Tre Harbinson. The backfield may be too crowded for all four players.
Felton has been rumored to be in contention for a punt returner role, which would fit his skill set best. Felton could even become a full-time pass catcher too. Felton ran routes during camp, which gives him an opportunity to see the field sooner rather than later. Stefanski sees Felton’s potential and believes he could handle multiple roles on the offense.
“It depends on the player, (but) if a guy can handle it, the more jobs you can teach him, the better chance they have to help your football team early.”
Stefanski continued to comment on how well Felton has adapted as a ball carrier, but also as a pass-catcher.
It will be an interesting battle to watch at training camp. There is a possibility that Felton has the ability to handle both extremely well. He provides the offense with a safety net when it comes to depth. He should be a player on everyone’s watchlist heading into training camp.
The Cleveland Browns have assembled a superstar-filled roster heading into the new season. Kevin Stefanski and Baker Mayfield have brought a new attitude and culture to a once lifeless franchise. Not only Mayfield but Chubb and Ward have spoken out about how they are not interested in talking contract extensions.
Teams with that attitude, tend to be successful. The Browns are off to a great start.