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Notes: Coaches, players starting to get feel for new kickoff

BEREA — Coaches, players and even reporters are beginning to get a glimpse of how the new kickoff could look this season.

The Browns practiced kickoffs for the first time with reporters in attendance Wednesday. The new rules require the majority of players on both teams to line up 5 yards from each other and not move until the ball lands or is touched by the returner.

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“They get to experience the speed of the play and how much sooner the return is on you,” coach Kevin Stefanski said of the coverage team after the organized team activities practice. “That’s something that a bunch of guys have mentioned to me. Just back in the old days, you could run 30 yards and find the ball and start to get in your lane, and now it’s just like you come out of your stance and, bam, that play is on you. So they’re getting a feel for that.

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“The preseason will be a big deal and getting some of those reps. It’s still a work in progress for players and coaches.” 

The players and position groups used on the return and coverage teams will be interesting.

Running back Jerome Ford and receiver Cedric Tillman were among the returners Wednesday, and the blockers were mainly tight ends and defensive backs with the occasional lineman. The coverage unit was predominantly linebackers and defensive backs with a defensive lineman or two.

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With less space, the play looks more like one from scrimmage than a traditional kick return.

“It may not look initially to our fans and to viewers like a football play that they’re used to, but it still is blocking, it still is tackling, it still is running,” Stefanski said. “So, at the end of the day, technique is still the No. 1 thing that we’re going to coach, the No. 1 thing that’s important on that play. When you reduce the distance and the speed a little bit, now you’re going to get potentially those bigger players out there. So we’ll continue to rep them and be ready to evolve based on how the play is unfolding.” 

BACK AT IT

Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson returned to practice this week and threw. He had been sidelined by a hip injury sustained Dec. 24 against Houston as a rookie.

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Deshaun Watson didn’t throw and remains on the every-other-day schedule. He continued to do everything but throw during the play installations.

With Thompson-Robinson limited, Jameis Winston and Tyler Huntley handled the throwing during seven-on-seven and team drills. Huntley connected with receiver Matt Landers on a deep post for a touchdown.

TAKING ATTENDANCE

Defensive end Myles Garrett, receiver Amari Cooper, tight end David Njoku, left guard Joel Bitonio, defensive tackles Dalvin Tomlinson and Quinton Jefferson and safety Juan Thornhill remained absent from OTAs. Receiver Jerry Jeudy has attended some sessions but wasn’t there Wednesday.

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** Defensive end Za’Darius Smith, cornerback Greg Newsome II, rookie defensive tackle Mike Hall Jr. and linebacker Jordan Hicks practiced after not being there last week during the session open to reporters.

** Left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. (knee), running back/returner Nyheim Hines and running back D’Onta Foreman (undisclosed) watched but didn’t participate. Wills and Hines are recovering from 2023 surgeries and have yet to practice.

VALUE ADD

Consultant Mike Vrabel, the former Titans coach, again was an active participant during practice.

“Vrabes is an incredible asset for us organizationally. He’s an incredible asset for me,” Stefanski said. “I don’t know what he would be doing if he wasn’t here. He cannot sit on a couch, so we’re getting our money’s worth, and he’s in every drill and he’s doing great in the meetings.

“Like I’ve told him, he’s an energy multiplier. It’s fun having him around. He’s a great influence for our young coaches, he can provide some really good mentorship to our young coaches, and obviously he provides great value to our coaching staff.”

EXTRA POINTS

Stefanski still hasn’t decided who’ll call plays during the season. He and new coordinator Ken Dorsey have rotated in OTAs, and Stefanski called in plays to the quarterbacks Wednesday, as did Watson.

“That’s not really our focus right now,” Stefanski said of picking the play caller. “Deshaun was calling plays in that last period. He did a pretty good job. So maybe he’ll do it this fall.”

** Safety Brady Breeze (6-foot, 205 pounds) was signed and kicker Lucas Havrisik waived.

Breeze was drafted in the sixth round in 2021 by the Titans and has appeared in 11 games. He spent time on the practice squads of the Seahawks and Texans last year and participated in Cleveland’s rookie minicamp in May on a tryout basis.

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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