Q: Defensive coordinator Joe Woods has been dealt a better hand this season. What changes might we expect in terms of defensive game plans and specific tactics?
— John Palazzo
A: The biggest difference will be the use of the three-safety dime package, assuming Grant Delpit gets and stays healthy. Woods wants the dime to be a staple of the defense — about 25 snaps a game — but couldn’t employ it last year due to injuries and a lack of talent. Delpit was sidelined for much of camp with a hamstring injury but returned to practice Thursday and could open the year with about 10 plays a game in the dime.
I also expect Woods to blitz more. He has better depth and talent in the secondary, which frees up a coach to take more chances. He also has rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who quickly showed he can find his way to the quarterback.
Finally, I’d look for more flexibility along the line. Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney can move from the outside to the interior, and tackles Malik Jackson and Malik McDowell can go the other way.
Q: It’s time for the Scott Petrak Awards:
- Best rookie or undrafted free agent in training camp and the preseason.
- Player who made a name for himself.
- Player who took steps back.
— Randy Clar
A: Let’s work on a catchier name for the awards before next preseason.
- I know it’s easy because he’s the first-round pick, but cornerback Greg Newsome II was the best rookie. He wasn’t overwhelmed, learned a new technique and made plays in practice and the games, earning a starting job. Running back/receiver Demetric Felton was runner-up.
- McDowell made a new name for himself. He arrived with a prison record and video of an ugly altercation with police but won over the coaches with his behavior and performance. McDowell was borderline dominant against backups in the last two preseason games, earning a roster spot and playing time in the opener. If he stays out of trouble, general manager Andrew Berry got a steal.
- Porter Gustin entered camp as the favorite to stick as the No. 4 defensive end but didn’t do enough to win the job. He’s back on the practice squad, but Joe Jackson will open the year in the rotation.
Q: Who has more pressure to win the AFC title this season and proceed to the Super Bowl: Kansas City, Buffalo, Baltimore or Cleveland?
— Mark Iacofano
A: My first thought is the Chiefs because they’re the favorite and have Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. But they’ve won the last two AFC titles, so that alleviates much of the pressure, especially outside of KC.
So I’ll go with the Bills. A lot of experts like them to unseat the Chiefs, they have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and quarterback Josh Allen is considered a strong MVP candidate. I’d put the Browns last among the group because they don’t have the winning tradition of the other top contenders.
Q: Who is considered the third receiver on this team, Rashard Higgins or Donovan Peoples-Jones?
A: Peoples-Jones … and I’m not sure it’s close.
Peoples-Jones was the MVP of camp, while Higgins missed time with a couple of minor injuries. The coaches know what Higgins can do, and I think he’ll get playing time, but Peoples-Jones is ahead of him in the rotation, is bigger, faster and stronger and has a much bigger upside.
Q: If Felton turns out to be too slow, will they keep using him?
A: They better not. Berry is like all GMs — he wants his draft picks to succeed and gives them more time to do so — but if Felton flops, I believe the Browns would admit it and look for a better alternative. After all, he was only a sixth-round pick, so it’s not like the team is heavily invested.
I get where your question comes from. Felton didn’t test well in his predraft workout and looked a bit slow on a couple of plays during the preseason. But he’s got good quickness and is smart. A player can stick around a long time with that combination.
Q: The Patriots recently learned like Ron Rivera did earlier that QB Cam Newton lost a step since his car accident a few years ago, but too many sport commentators (minus you) continue to rave about him. What is the thinking at Browns HQ? Is anyone there in favor of taking a flier on Newton?
— Bob Williams
A: I can’t speak for everyone at 76 Lou Groza Blvd. but I don’t sense there’s significant interest. The team feels comfortable with Case Keenum as the backup because he has experience in coach Kevin Stefanski’s system. Newton is a different style of quarterback and would require too big of an adjustment if something ever happened to Baker Mayfield.