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Mailbag: Who will the starting tackles be next year?

Q: Who do you think will be the starting tackles on the offensive line next season? Also, before I forget, thanks for another season of excellent reporting!

— @LeonardMullin10

A: I’m trying to stay in the moment (not really) but I’ll indulge you. And thanks so much for the kind words.

I thought the answer would be easy, but the more I considered it, the more doubt creeped in. But I’m sticking with Jedrick Wills Jr. at left tackle and Dawand Jones at right tackle.

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Wills is better than many fans think, and the front office has shown it will be patient with draft picks it believes has potential. That applies double to the No. 10 pick. The Browns picked up the guaranteed fifth-year option on Wills’ rookie contract for 2024, so the only way he doesn’t start is if they trade him. I don’t think that’s a likely scenario, but with how well Jones played as a rookie and his desire to eventually play left tackle, I can’t rule it out.

The other major variable is Jack Conklin. He sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the opener, continuing a string of serious injuries. He’ll be 30 when next season starts and it’s unknown if he wants to keep playing. He signed a four-year, $60 million extension that runs through 2026, so he has plenty of reason to come back — if he’s healthy enough. The Browns wouldn’t be able to count on him to play a full season, but with the money he’s owed, maybe the Browns could trade Wills, move Jones to left tackle and plan on Conklin/someone else to handle the right side.

I still believe Wills and Jones is the most likely scenario.

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Q:
Many of us have questioned some of Kevin Stefanski’s offensive play calls. Putting his four years in perspective, would it be fair to say that even when it all goes wrong, Coach Stefanski now has a reputation of being willing to make any call at any time and it’s paid big dividends this season?

— John Palazzo

A: I definitely think that’s fair. Stefanski is aggressive by nature, and I’ve never sensed a reluctance to call whatever he feels is best despite what the reaction from fans and media might be. This is a necessary trait for a play caller and head coach.

People may be getting sick of me praising Stefanski, but he deserves every word of credit thrown his way for the job he’s done this season, including as a play caller. You don’t win with four starting quarterbacks without having great game plans.


Q:
Who are you liking for candidates for team MVP?

— @MrEd315

A: I think it’s a no-brainer: Myles Garrett.

You could make an argument for kicker Dustin Hopkins or quarterback Joe Flacco, but Garrett has been the best player throughout the season and played a huge role in the team making the playoffs. As Stefanski has repeatedly said, Garrett is the best player on the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense. His impact goes well beyond the 14 sacks, and he could very likely win his first NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

He got my vote and was the unanimous choice as the team’s Joe Thomas Player of the Year in voting by local media.


Q:
Any starters playing?

— @KevinKvasnok12

A: Some of them.

The roster isn’t big enough to sit everyone, but I don’t expect many big names to play.

Here are the guys I could see getting serious playing time: right tackle James Hudson III, right guard Wyatt Teller (he hasn’t missed a snap this season), defensive tackle Jordan Elliott, cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. and safeties Ronnie Hickman and D’Anthony Bell.

Defensive end Ogbo Okoronkwo (pectoral) and receiver Elijah Moore (concussion) could also play a bit to get back in the groove.


Q:
Has the injury for Anthony Walker Jr. been called season-ending? Because if it’s 4 weeks, then he could be back by AFC Championship Game.

— @KEasrerwood

A: The injury has not been called season-ending. Walker had arthroscopic knee surgery Dec. 21 and the hope was for a quick return, but the knee hasn’t responded well enough. He was put on injured reserve Friday to clear a roster spot.

Anthony Walker Jr. placed on IR

A trip to IR requires a minimum four-game stay, so Walker will have time to see how the knee feels over the next month. But he won’t be eligible until the Super Bowl. He must miss the regular-season finale, the wild card round, the divisional round and the conference championship.

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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