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Training Camp Preview: Examining the offense after an offseason full of changes

Three quarterbacks. Two running backs. A Pro Bowl receiver. A right tackle.

Don’t forget a coordinator who will call the plays.

The offense got quite a makeover in the offseason under the direction of new general manager John Dorsey. The drastic changes were necessary after the Browns went 0-16, with a huge chunk of the blame falling on the offense.

It ranked last in scoring (14.6 points per game), 24th in yardage (308.9) and last in turnovers (41).

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With training camp starting Thursday, it’s a good time to break down the position groups on offense following all the changes.

Quarterbacks

Gone are DeShone Kizer, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan, traded to Green Bay, Jacksonville and Washington.

In their place are Tyrod Taylor (trade from Buffalo), Baker Mayfield (No. 1 draft pick) and Drew Stanton (free agent).

If you’re going to try to change the culture of an organization that’s 1-31 in the last two years, you start with the most important position. The transformation provides the greatest reason for optimism for a turnaround now and in the future.

Taylor was 22-21 as a starter with the Bills and ended their playoff drought last season. He may not be elite but he’s way better than his predecessors on the Browns starters list that will hit No. 29 when he starts Week 1 against the Steelers, as planned.

He seized control of the locker room immediately and his leadership skills are obvious. With coordinator Todd Haley running the offense and weapons surrounding him, Taylor has the chance to captain a productive unit and lead the Browns to a number of wins.

The most intriguing guy in the room is Mayfield, though there’s a chance he won’t play much, if at all, this season. At under 6-foot-1, it was a surprise the Browns took him at No. 1, but the Heisman Trophy winner has an impressive resume and lots of confidence.

He’ll get plenty of playing time in the preseason and needs to show he can survive and thrive in the pocket when it begins to collapse.

Stanton, 34, will mentor Mayfield and be a resource for Taylor. Stanton is 11-6 as a starter in his career and will serve as insurance if the coaching staff feels Mayfield isn’t ready to open the season as the backup.

Running backs

Haley should have no reason to abandon the run, as coach Hue Jackson too often did the last two years.

Dorsey signed Carlos Hyde to replace departed starter Isaiah Crowell. Hyde, the former Ohio State star, had 21 touchdowns and a 4.2-yard average per carry in four seasons with the 49ers and came up just short of 1,000 yards the last two seasons. He added 59 catches in 2017.

Dorsey then drafted Georgia’s Nick Chubb with the No. 35 pick. He’s the SEC’s second all-time leading rusher (behind Herschel Walker) and impressed teammates in OTAs and minicamp with his old-school, no-nonsense approach.

The potential workhorses join Duke Johnson, who was voted the team’s player of the year last season. He’s a threat receiving and rushing and signed a big-money extension in the offseason.

Johnson’s role, while flexible, is established. He’ll play on third downs, get a couple of series as the featured back and see time as the slot receiver.

How the rest of the carries are divided remains to be determined. The guess here is Hyde opens the year as the starter with Chubb getting limited action, with the roles flopping by the second half of the season.

Wide receivers

The certainty at running back isn’t matched at receiver. No matter that Josh Gordon believes it’s the most talented group in the NFL.

Can Gordon stay eligible and reliable for a full season for the first time?

Can Corey Coleman live up to his first-round draft status and stay healthy?

Will rookie Antonio Callaway get and stay healthy, stay out of trouble and challenge Coleman for playing time?

Will Jarvis Landry get enough catches — he averaged 100 in four seasons in Miami — to keep him happy?

The potential of the group Gordon has trumpeted is obvious, but for it to be fulfilled Gordon must play like the All-Pro he was in 2013, when he set a franchise record with 1,646 receiving yards in just 14 games. That Gordon changes the dynamic of any receiving corps and offense.

A true No. 1 receiver would open things underneath for Landry and remove pressure from Coleman and Callaway, who have the explosion to burn single coverage on the other side.

Without Gordon on the field, or at his best, a lot more will be asked of the rest of the receivers. Landry, a three-time Pro Bowler, is the only one who’s shown he can handle it.

Tight ends

Veteran Darren Fells (6-7, 270 pounds) was signed to replace Randall Telfer and should be an upgrade as a blocker and receiving threat in the red zone.

But the performance of the position will come down to the continued improvement of David Njoku and Seth DeValve.

Njoku, in his second year, and DeValve, in his third, are converted receivers still getting the hang of the position. Both have demonstrated the ability to make big plays down the field but have lacked the necessary consistency.

With more talent at receiver and running back, the field should open for the tight ends. With Taylor’s reputation for being careful with the ball, Njoku and DeValve could see themselves targeted a lot.

It’s up to them to take advantage.

Line

The surest of sure things is no longer, and that’s a reason to worry.

In 11 years with Joe Thomas locking down left tackle, the Browns knew the quarterback’s blind side was protected. That luxury vanished with Thomas’ retirement.

The other four line spots are strong and secure with left guard Joel Bitonio, center JC Tretter, right guard Kevin Zeitler and right tackle Chris Hubbard. Left tackle remains unresolved.

Shon Coleman will open camp with the first-team offense, but the organization would prefer if rookie No. 33 pick Austin Corbett grabbed hold of the job. If both fail, recent free agent signee Greg Robinson, the No. 2 pick in 2014, could step in.

The last resort would be moving Bitonio to the outside and using Corbett or Spencer Drango at left guard. The coaches don’t want to weaken two spots.

It seems clear no matter whom the Browns play at left tackle, Haley and Jackson will have to design the game plan to keep Taylor’s blind side protected.

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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