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Mailbag: What does the Mychal Kendricks signing mean for the LBs? Duke Johnson’s role? How’s the depth?

Q: OK, so can I revise my earlier question and just ask if Mychal Kendricks actually did sign with the Browns, or not? And if so, has he admitted it yet? If he has, what will his role be? Starter? Backup with lots of playing time?

— Justin Nalley

A: Not yet. But an agreement has been reached, and the deal is expected to be announced Tuesday. (It was. It’s official.)

I’m assuming that means Kendricks knows about it and will admit it. It’ll be fun to talk to him for the first time, because the way he denied the initial report Sunday certainly made it seem like the Browns weren’t his first choice.

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As for his role, it will be interesting to see how that plays out. I’m sure he expects to start, which means he’d have to bump an incumbent. But which one?

Jamie Collins is coming off a torn medial collateral ligament but is the most talented of the bunch. Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert each played every defensive snap last year, with Schobert tied for first in the NFL with 144 tackles and Kirsey tied for fourth with 138. The four starting-caliber linebackers give coordinator Gregg Williams the flexibility he covets but will require some finesse in how he handles the roles and rotations. The early guess – without having seen Kendricks take a practice snap – is Collins will start on the strong side, Kendricks on the weak side and Kirksey in the middle in the base defense. Schobert may have been a Pro Bowler last year, but he’s probably best suited as a fourth linebacker and ace special teamer. Even if he doesn’t keep his starting job, Schobert will have a role on defense, with Collins able to play defensive end in nickel situations and Kendricks a valuable blitzer.


Q:
The Browns have acquired a lot of talented receivers and running backs this offseason. What does this mean for Duke Johnson?

— Doug Slowski

A: I think his role will be reduced to a degree, but not significantly. He’s too talented and consistent and proved his immense value last year as the team’s best offensive player.

But I see where you’re going with the question. I wondered if the additions of Jarvis Landry as a slot receiver and Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb in the backfield were greasing the skids for the departure of Johnson, whose rookie contract is set to expire after this season. But after talking to Johnson during OTAs last month, I’m convinced his optimism is legitimate and general manager John Dorsey wants to keep him long term.

Regarding his role this year, expect Johnson to be the third-down back, play some slot receiver (he’s been there in practice) and get enough carries to keep the defense honest.


Q:
I was wondering what your thoughts are about the Browns depth chart. This is where games are truly won and allows your team to be strong in the fourth quarter. What positions are a strength and which ones will be our weakness? Also do you see our special teams unit being stronger this year because of our depth across the board?

— John Gregory

A: GM John Dorsey made it a priority to improve the depth and “middle class” of the roster and I think he succeeded. The obvious holes across the roster from the last two years are gone, filled with veterans and competition.

The strongest positions are running back and linebacker, following the signing of Mychal Kendricks. The biggest improvements are at quarterback and cornerback, which both lacked depth and talent.

Of course, Dorsey couldn’t fix everything in one offseason. Free safety lacks depth behind starter Damarious Randall, and I’m still concerned about receiver despite a series of moves.

The upgrades at cornerback and linebacker should benefit the special teams. Look for Joe Schobert, rookie linebacker Genard Avery and receiver Jeff Janis to have big years on kick coverage. They also have more options at returner.


Q:
Are the Browns going to wait till training camp to sign Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb? What is the holdup?

— @MikeHeyman4

A: Quit worrying.

First of all, Chubb signed Monday after I received your question. Secondly, almost no rookies hold out anymore after the implementation of the rookie wage scale.

If Mayfield or Ward hasn’t signed by July 20, then you can start fretting. More likely, the deals will be complete by the end of minicamp later this month.


Q:
How do you feel about the LBs?? Very questionable in coverage situations and Jamie Collins needs to show he’s worth the contract he signed. Doesn’t seem like he plays hard every down.

— @KevinSwindler

A: I like the group more than you do, even more so after the addition of Kendricks.

Collins, Kirskey and Schobert had their struggles last year, particularly in pass coverage, but I like the athleticism of all three. I do need to see more consistency from Collins and more playmaking from Kirksey and Schobert. Coordinator Gregg Williams felt forced to use three linebackers a ton last year because of the lack of quality options in the secondary, and that hurt the defense’s overall pass coverage. Schobert also struggled early with the playcalling duties.

I understand your frustration with Collins and don’t think it’s unfounded. But when I isolate on him during a game, he usually seems to be hustling and trying to create a turnover. His talent alone makes him one of the best players on the team, but for him to be worth the money, he needs more splash plays — sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions. With more wins likely and more talent around him, if Collins can stay healthy, I expect a Pro Bowl season from him in 2018.


Q:
It is reportedly so that every NFL club excluded from exemptions must appear on “Hard Knocks.” Yet the list of teams identified who’ve appeared from our division does not include Pittsburgh. Am I mistaken? Is this yet another instance of advantageous privilege extended to that team?

— Mark Leonard

A: I don’t think so, although no one will question your credentials as a Browns fan with the mere suggestion.

Plenty of teams from the NFL haven’t been on “Hard Knocks” yet — the Browns will make their debut this year — although that is the long-term goal of HBO and NFL Films. I would say there are two main reasons the Steelers haven’t been featured. They’ve been in the playoffs eight of the last 11 years and a playoff team can decline participation. And even when Pittsburgh doesn’t make the playoffs, the organization is the model of stability, so the drama level may not be what the producers desire.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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