Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Takeaways from the conclusion of Browns mandatory minicamp …
School’s out for summer.
Freddie Kitchens cut short the last practice of minicamp, officially concluding the first “offseason” program of his Browns coaching tenure. It is fair to label it a huge success.
Kitchens effectively put out the Duke Johnson brushfire. Odell Beckham Jr. showed up a happy and healthy camper. The rookies blended in seamlessly and demonstrated the promise to contribute immediately, particularly Greedy Williams. Specialists appeared ready to lift the special teams out of the doldrums. Real depth in the roster should be able to avoid a derailment of the season if typical injuries hit. And there were no major injuries carrying into training camp.
Now for our takeaways on each position group:
1. Baker Mayfield’s consistent accuracy should never be taken for granted. The dropoff in arm talent to backups Drew Stanton and Garrett Gilbert is substantial. The most obvious difference in Mayfield’s second season is his evolutation as undisputed team leader. Last year at this time he was a listener. Now he is a talker, frequently conferring with receivers and backs, almost to the point of being a coach on the field.
2. When coaches talk-up Dontrell Hilliard, it’s more than lip service. I sense they see him as a suitable replacement for Duke Johnson behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. It’s possible Hilliard’s continued development could accelerate a trade of Johnson even before Hunt returns from his eight-game suspension in November, effectively granting Johnson his wish to avoid a mid-season trade. It all hinges, however, on a market developing for Johnson in preseason.
3. The receiver position is loaded. Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Antonio Callaway and Rashard Higgins form a top four more talented than I can remember for any Browns team pre-expansion. It’s even decent beyond the top four. A revelation of minicamp was Ishmael Hyman, Gilbert’s teammate in the ill-fated Alliance league, who received some reps with the first team when starters sat out.
5. One of the most significant additions to the team is offensive line coach James Campen. No matter what happens at right guard – which figures to be an open competition among Austin Corbett, Kyle Kalis and Eric Kush – I feel Campen alone will make the line better. He’s in the top tier of O-line coaches.
6. I don’t agree with Kitchens that defensive line is the strength of the team, but it’s in great shape as long as ends Myles Garrett and Olivier Vernon are healthy. One noticeable change is Garrett lining up in different spots other than right end.
7. Genard Avery worked at defensive end and linebacker, an indication he may not be penciled-in as an every-down linebacker as assumed. Coordinator Steve Wilks showed a lot of 4-2-5 alignments, using Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert as the starting linebackers. I’ve heard the coaches are very high on rookie Sione Takitaki developing faster than any pre-draft report anticipated.
8. The new players to watch are rookie cornerback Greedy Williams and versatile safety Jermaine Whitehead. Williams spent a lot of time with the No. 1 defense and should be expected to challenge for the starting job from Day 1. Whitehead is the wild card in the 4-2-5 alignment. He could join starters Damarious Randall and Morgan Burnett even on first down, depending on the opponent’s offense. If Williams wins a starting job, the depth at cornerback with Terrance Mitchell, T.J. Carrie and Eric Murray is good.
9. While rookie kicker Austin Seibert has suffered being paired with holder-in-training Jamie Gillen, incumbent Greg Joseph has thrived. This battle is going to be interesting because Seibert has obvious leg talent but is being held back by the effort to teach Gillen, aka the Scottish Hammer, the art of holding. The thing is, Gillen’s left leg is the bomb, but he can only serious threaten Britton Colquitt as punter if he perfects the added duties of holder. Meanwhile, Callaway looks by far the best returner. He wants to do it and he can bring back explosiveness to the position.
Veteran players are now off until training camp reporting date in late July; rookies stay a week longer. The training camp schedule should be released very soon.
So this begins a nervous time, historically, for GMs and coaches around the league, as they hold their breath each time their cell phones ring, fearing calls about players in some sort of trouble. It’s Kitchens’ first semi-vacation as a head coach. He said he’ll spend most of his time home in Cleveland enjoying the summer.
“We don’t have very many rules here. It is just to do the right thing, and we will be fine,” Kitchens said. “They have to make the decisions so hopefully, they make good decisions.
“Yes, I get nervous, but I get nervous when my daughters walk to school. Yeah, I am always nervous. When they are not with me, I am nervous, just like my daughters. I would say that I trust them, too, though. I trust them. I trust that they are going to do the right thing and I am going to trust them until they tell me that I can’t trust them, and they tell me that by showing me that.”