Q: How will the linebackers be deployed in coordinator Steve Wilks’ schemes?
A: The consistent theme when talking to the coaching staff, including Wilks, is that the linebackers will be interchangeable. So while Joe Schobert will remain the middle linebacker with play-calling responsibilities, he will also be asked to take the strongside or weakside duties depending on the particular play and matchup.
Another thing is clear: Wilks expects all his linebackers to be able to run. Schobert and Christian Kirksey are able to do so, matching up with tight ends and running backs often during their careers, but the point was driven home with the draft picks of Sione Takitaki in the third round and Mack Wilson in the fifth.
As for playing time, I expect Schobert and Kirksey to keep their starting jobs and play just about every snap. Holcomb said he wants his middle linebacker to be on the field as much as possible, and Kirksey has the experience and athleticism to play as the second linebacker in nickel packages.
The question heading into training camp will be who wins the third starting spot, which has decreased value given the amount of time defenses spend in sub packages and Wilks’ apparent penchant for playing three safeties. Adarius Taylor, who was signed as a free agent in March, was the third linebacker in OTAs but I’d expect Takitaki to make a strong push for the job.
The Browns obviously felt an upgrade was necessary at linebacker, and Schobert and Kirksey have uncertain contract situations following the season. So Takitaki and Wilson could see larger roles as the season progresses.
Q: How about a few observations on the performance of the offensive line so far, especially the starting and backup tackles?
A: It’s hard to get a great read on the O-line without pads, but here goes.
Greg Robison and Chris Hubbard have been locked in at the starting tackle spots, and Desmond Harrison, who started the first eight games at left tackle last year, doesn’t look like a contender for a starting spot and could be in jeopardy of losing his roster spot in the summer. He’s yet to consistently show the accountability and commitment coaches desire.
The big news up front is that Austin Corbett is in a fight for the right guard spot. He’s still the favorite to win it, but Kyle Kalis, Eric Kush and Bryan Witzmann have gotten reps with the starters. If Corbett, the No. 33 pick in 2018, can’t keep the job, that would be a big disappointment.
As for performance during OTAs, I know defensive end Myles Garrett still wins plenty of one-on-one battles in drills, left guard Joel Bitonio is a technician who shows up ready to work every day and offensive line coach James Campen loved how the line picked up an all-out blitz to set up a completion last week.
Q: How’s the place kicking-battle going? Does the Scottish Hammer have a realistic shot at unseating punter Britton Colquitt?
A: After a bumpy start for Greg Joseph and rookie Austin Seibert, they both were perfect last week during the 11-on-11 drill. They both have big legs, with Seibert’s looking stronger last week, as he made the 52-yarder with plenty of room to spare.
I thought Joseph showed potential last year as a rookie after replacing Zane Gonzalez, but Seibert’s status as a fifth-round pick gives him the edge. Joseph will need to be the clear-cut winner in training camp and the preseason to keep the job.
As for the Scottish Hammer — aka, Jamie Gillan — I asked special teams coordinator Mike Priefer your question and he was emphatic that Gillan has a realistic shot at winning the job. Priefer said he doesn’t believe in “camp legs,” and the time Priefer has invested into Gillan before and after the draft shows the Browns believe he has a chance to be good. He’s got a big left leg and has spent the offseason working as a holder after never having done that in college because he also was the kicker. He made strides throughout OTAs.
Q: What the heck do the kickers do during 9 OTAs when all we saw was each went 5-for-5 in some sort of mini (and “mini” is an understatement) kicking duel? How many simulated game kicks do the kickers attempt each practice? It sure seems like a meager number.
A: Back-to-back kicking questions — love it.
Parents, raise your kids to be kickers, punters and long snappers. While the rest of the football team is running and knocking heads, they spend much of their practice time on a far field hanging out with each other.
The 5-for-5 was the only full-team kicking drill of last week’s practice open to reporters, and that is typical. The kickers and punters also kick in front of coordinator Mike Priefer without a simulated rush. Those results are recorded, as well. Finally, the kickers and punters are part of the special teams coverage and return drills.
The coaches have a good idea for the kickers’ strengths and weaknesses, but they will rely heavily on the results in “pressure” moments to make their decision. Those start with the full-team drills in practice and will include the preseason games. The sample sizes aren’t huge, but there should be enough data to make the right choice.
Q: How has rookie cornerback Greedy Williams looked working with the ones?
A: In a word: solid.
Coaches are often slow to push rookies up the depth chart, making sure they earn the promotions. So the amount of time Williams, a second-round pick, has spent with the starters has been a surprise to me. But it signals the talent he has and the role the coaches want him to have during the season.
I think Williams has held his own, although he hasn’t had to face Odell Beckham Jr. or Jarvis Landry. We will get a better gauge this week during minicamp with Beckham and Antonio Callaway expected to participate.
To me, Williams took a noticeable jump from rookie minicamp to the end of OTAs. In rookie camp he seemed hesitant playing off coverage and allowed several completions against lesser competition. He looks more sure of himself now, and showed good awareness in making a great breakup of a deep pass for Callaway. It’s easy to see why GM John Dorsey loved the idea of pairing Williams with Denzel Ward as the starting corners.