BEREA, Ohio – Cleveland Browns training camp is almost two weeks in. Here is what we’ve learned so far, and what to watch for moving forward:
What to watch for
Last week, the Buffalo Bills made Josh Allen the first QB from the 2018 draft class to land an extension.
The Browns and quarterback Baker Mayfield's representation have been in touch this offseason, but to this point have yet to seriously engage on a contract extension, per sources. The Josh Allen news, however, could be the spark that jumpstarts those negotiations, as the deal effectively set the market for the 2018 QB draft class, which also includes Baltimore Ravens star Lamar Jackson. Allen will be making an average of $43 million per year, providing a benchmark for the Browns to work off of.
While Bills general manager Brandon Beane said he would cease extension negotiations with Allen after the season started, Browns GM Andrew Berry said his front office would be open-minded about negotiating rookie extensions after the season began. So, the Allen news doesn’t mean a Mayfield extension will suddenly happen overnight. And talks could linger well into the season. Not that Mayfield is worried about it, either way.
"I'm not doing the negotiations, so quite frankly I don't give a damn," he said Sunday. "I'm worried about winning Week 1, then going on to Week 2 and focusing on that week, one week at a time. And that's my mindset. So no matter how many times I get asked this question throughout the year, it's going to be the same answer because that's just the truth."
To this point, Odell Beckham Jr has been kept to the side during 7-on-7 and team drills. But coach Kevin Stefanski has hinted that OBJ could get more involved beginning this week, as he makes his return from last year’s season-ending knee injury.
Watching Beckham in individual and passing drills, you wouldn’t know he was coming off an ACL tear. The speed, cuts, and explosiveness are as sharp as ever. Getting Beckham in game-like situations before the season begins will be the next step.
Returns of Delpit, Walker, Harrison
The Browns have largely been without three key players defensively thus far: safeties Grant Delpit and Ronnie Harrison Jr. and linebacker Anthony Walker. Delpit is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury, and now is dealing with a hamstring issue, as well. Harrison too has an injured hamstring. Walker, meanwhile, suffered a knee injury early in camp.
The Browns are still counting on getting all three guys back before the season begins. But first, they need to get them off the exercise bikes and back onto the practice field.
The case of DE Takkarist McKinley is much murkier. McKinley was visibly sick during multiple practices. Now he’s away from the team, with Stefanski saying he has no timetable for when McKinley might return. The Browns are in good shape at end with Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. But their depth has taken a hit with McKinley’s absence.
What we’ve learned
Peoples-Jones is making a leap
On a roster that features Pro Bowlers Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, as well as Mayfield-security-blanket Rashard Higgins, it’s been Donovan Peoples-Jones who’s stolen the show among the receivers. The second-year pro out of Michigan has been in sync with Mayfield all camp, underscored by several big plays in Sunday’s Orange & Brown scrimmage.
“Donovan and I, we worked quite a bit this offseason,” Mayfield said afterward. “He looks great. Hats off to him. He has put in the work. He looks unbelievable right now. Running faster ... a smart guy. He can play a lot of positions, too.”
Despite being Cleveland’s training camp MVP so far, DPJ is still probably fourth in the receiving pecking order. But the former sixth-round pick could also prove to be a valuable piece in an offense brimming over with weapons.
Clowney is the X-factor defensively
If defensive ends were allowed to hit the quarterbacks, Clowney might have 100 sacks already in camp. The No. 1 overall pick in 2014 has been one of the most impressive performers so far, despite having season-ending knee surgery last season. Clowney is having fun, and it shows in the hustle and exuberance he’s displayed.
“When you’re healthy, you have a lot of fun,” Clowney said. “When you have been playing for seven years -- and I have been dealing with injuries seven years -- it is kind of not fun being out there, but when you are taking care of your body, you are in good health and you know what you love, I think it is fun and exciting to be out there moving around and feeling good.”
Clowney hasn’t been beating scrubs out there, either. Mostly, he’s been matched up against All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin, who noted that Clowney “brings a whole different level of physicality.”
The key for Clowney, of course, will be to remain healthy. But if he does, the Browns could be boasting the top pass-rushing duo in the league, with Defensive Player of the Year candidate Garrett manning the other side.
The secondary is vastly improved
Last year, the Browns ranked near the bottom in opposing QBR allowed, as secondary woes plagued Cleveland all season. Already, it’s evident that Cleveland’s pass coverage will be much improved this season.
Safety John Johnson III has brought a stabilizing presence to a back end that is giving the Browns offense fits at times in 7-on-7 and team passing drills. Johnson has been opportunistic. But just as importantly, he’s constantly talking and getting his teammates in the right positions.
The additions of Troy Hill at nickel and rookie Greg Newsome II at corner have also seemed to make a discernable difference. With corner Denzel Ward still in Pro Bowl form, the Browns suddenly have the talent and depth to form one of the most improved defensive backfields in the NFL -- if not ultimately one of its best, as well.