Browns, WFNY Roundtable

Browns preseason thoughts: WFNY Roundtable

The Cleveland Browns are taking on the New York football Giants on Monday Night Football. Except, it is preseason Week 2, so it is not quite the same. There are still important topics moving forward that can have trendlines affected by what happens on the field alongside other issues that are working themselves out over the long haul of the August training camp sessions.

The Browns are looking to demonstrate to their fans that they are a capable franchise and that the 1-15 2016 season was just a needed painful first step towards building a consistent, competitive franchise. There is much work to do though, and the WFNY has some thoughts based on what they have seen thus far.

Here we go.

Rookie Talk

Are you convinced yet that Myles Garrett is the real deal or are you still reserving judgement for when the lights come on during the regular season?

Gerberry: There are few rookies that, upon entering the NFL, have looked as good as Garrett has in preseason and workouts. He’s as real a deal as possible and, in my eyes, as much of a lock for Defensive Rookie of the Year as any Browns player has been, barring injury. He looks like he’s already been in the league for three years.

Gilbert: We will ultimately see the result when the season begins, but from what I have seen already and after watching him in college, I think Myles Garrett is the real deal. I have not seen an athlete on the Browns with the freakish athleticism he possesses since Josh Gordon, and I believe Garrett might be on a different level than Gordon (and obviously on a different level character-wise). I cannot wait for the regular season to see him play when the games count. I have never been more excited about the potential of a Browns rookie.

Josh: He’s the real deal and if some people are still skeptical about how good he is, he will prove just how good he is starting September 10. Whether it’s what he showed during his time at Texas A&M or so far with the Browns, Garrett has basically checked every box that you could ask of a rookie. His size, speed, and athleticism alone is incredible. Add in the fact that he’s going against Joe Thomas every time the left tackle practices and learning from Thomas on and off the field, and he will only improve his skillset going forward.

Bode: I have been one of Garrett’s strongest proponents since the 2016 collegiate season and even have called for an expectation of him breaking the all-time rookie sack record (14.5, JeVon Kearse) should he remain healthy for all 16 games. We won’t know for sure until we see him on the field against all first-string starters with offensive co-ordinators attempting to take him out of the game, but he has done everything correct to this point.

Scott: It’s slowly approaching the point where the only folks who feel Garrett has to prove himself are the most miserable of skeptics. The kid has done nothing but the right things since arriving in Cleveland. He’s training hard. He was handed nothing, yet worked his way to the first team. During his first 15 snaps of NFL action, he was disruptive. There’s a chance Garrett does not go down as the best player from his draft class, but success of a draft pick isn’t always binary. Yes, the Justin Gilberts of the world have taught us to think they are, but they aren’t. Some players can still be great without being the best. If we think of that being Garrett’s floor, it’s tough to not consider him the “real deal” heading into Week 1.

Craig:I might be wrong, but I’m just going to go in on it and say yes. There might be some scenario where he fails, but it isn’t because of lack of ability or talent. This kid is not Barkevious Mingo. His potential is the real deal. He should be able to beat a huge portion of opposing left tackles and he should make a first round impact in the NFL. I don’t know if he’s going to be a HOF’er like Joe Thomas, but I’m already confident he’s a starter-plus in the NFL.

Do you think the Browns should limit Peppers to defense to help with his learning curve or are you happy that he might be spending a bunch of time on special teams and offense too?

Gerberry: I would prefer to see him get fewer snaps on offense, but I am fine with him returning kicks and playing on special teams. Peppers has been durable in college, playing almost a record amount of snaps, so his conditioning is not the issue. Getting fewer snaps on offense would allow him to focus more on the defensive side of the ball, which is only beneficial, though he’s already a multi-faceted maven.

Gilbert: I love that the Browns are using Jabrill Peppers on special teams and offense. They should be using his athleticism and versatility to the team’s advantage. He was the best returner in the draft and has the potential to be a big play producer on special teams. It is not too much for him. I actually think he could gain confidence from playing on special teams and offense, which in turn will give him confidence on defense.

Josh: I trust that Hue Jackson and his staff will put Peppers in the best position possible to succeed. If they feel like he’s smart enough (and has the defense somewhat mastered), throw him in on offense too. He proved at Michigan that he is well conditioned enough to basically play almost every snap, including special teams. While the NFL playbook is much bigger and requires more strategy and memorization, Peppers seems smart enough to do anything and everything the team needs him to do. Then again, with him playing multiple positions on defense alone, starting slow and just using him on defense and as a returner may be the way to go. But, like I said, I trust that Jackson and company will make the right decision that’s best for both the team and the rookie.

Bode: I am a bit leery of giving Peppers too many snaps on offense for fear of him getting injured on that side of the ball. However, I fully understand the desire to put the ball in his hands as often as possible. He is dynamic and might be the best playmaker the team has on either side of the ball. The other portion on Peppers is that he is a workout freak who loves football to the point he will do what he can to convince the coaches he’s capable of never leaving the field. Whether the coaches listen or not, you have to love his attitude towards it.

Scott: If the Cleveland Browns were contending and needed to ensure their entire backfield was up to speed immediately, I’d be a bit worried. The silver lining about being a 1-15 team is every repetition can be used as a learning tool. By all indications, Peppers can take on multiple work loads. Now, Gregg Williams’ defense may be significantly more complex than what was being run in Ann Arbor, but they chose this kid in the first round for a reason. Let it rip.

Craig: Give him everything. You know who returns punts for the Steelers? Antonio Brown. Peppers is a great prospect because of his versatility and ability to be a gadget. You don’t leave half your Swiss Army knife folded in when you need to go MacGyver on the rest of the league.

What other rookie — outside of DeShone Kizer, Peppers, and Garrett — do you expect to make the biggest impact in 2017 and why?

Gerberry: David Njoku has the ceiling for making the biggest impact in 2017, but might lack the tools to be able to produce. Give me Peppers and his return ability that could make him the most dangerous return weapon since Travis Benjamin left.

Gilbert: David Njoku will make the biggest impact outside of those rookies. I believe he can immediately be a red zone threat and score touchdowns for the offense. He may not burst onto the scene with huge performances from Week 1, but he has the potential to be a big play producer as the season goes on and he develops. Zane Gonzalez will also be an impact player as the starting kicker.

Bode: With Danny Shelton’s knee already bothering him and being out potentially a month or more, it better be Larry Ogunjobi. He still sits below Jamie Meder on the depth chart, but the Browns need someone to fill the void left by Shelton’s absence.

Scott: Njoku has the biggest chance to make an impact, but rookie tight ends rarely, rarely produce much beyond replacement-level numbers. I’m going to cheat and throw out two names with Zane Gonzalez (who may lead the team in scoring this season) and running back Matthew Dayes. If I had to guess, they’d like to sneak Dayes on to the practice squad, but the kid is going to make it super tough for them to not keep him on as the third back much like Isaiah Crowell a few years ago.

Craig:I’ll take the field outside of David Njoku. I don’t think Njoku can make the leap quickly into the NFL. I wasn’t offered the rest of the field, but that’s who I’d take. I think there will be a surprise somewhere among the afterthought draft picks and rookie signings that will be given a chance and leap forward and impress us all.

Quarterback Talk

Do you believe there is a benefit of Kizer starting the season on the bench?

Gerberry: The benefit to starting Kizer on the bench is two-fold: you see what value Osweiler would have on the market, though many quarterback trades do not happen inseason. The other benefit is allowing the offensive line to gel while not allowing Kizer to get blown to bits and learn bad habits of Browns QBs of the past.  All of this being said, I do expect Kizer to start the season as the starting quarterback.

Gilbert: I think there is some benefit to learning from the bench, keeping the young quarterback from any early failure. But, I do not think it is a mandate for all quarterbacks. If he is the best player for the position, he should be starting from Day 1. Playing immediately can be beneficial to a young quarterback because he is learning and experiencing things in live action. I think DeShone Kizer is the best quarterback on the roster and should starting opening day.

Josh: In previous years my excuse for not starting him right away would be that he would get killed behind a subpar offensive line while trying to learn the NFL game by being thrown in the fire immediately. But, with how good this offensive line is expected to be along with the skill players he will have behind him (or alongside him in the backfield), at receiver, and at tight end, if Kizer knows the playbook and is ready to go, play him right off the bat. Brock Osweiler has already proved the kind of quarterback he is the NFL, give Kizer a chance to do the same beginning September 10.

Bode: If Kizer doesn’t know the playbook well enough, then sure he can start on the bench. Given his intelligence and work ethic though, I find it hard to believe he is behind where quarterbacks like Joe Flacco and Dak Prescott were their rookie seasons. Kizer has the most upside and he’ll learn best on the field.

Scott: I struggle to find a time going forward where DeShone Kizer will have a better offensive line than he would if he were to start Week 1. Couple this with a running back who could have been top-10 in yardage last season if not for Hue Jackson abandoning the run way too quickly, and a change-of-pace back multiple tight ends as release valves, the table is pretty much set for an inexperienced quarterback to learn the ropes. It’s not about “knowing what you have” or whatever rhetoric people want to throw out there. Kizer is more talented than any other quarterback on the Browns’ roster. When the examples of successful quarterbacks who sat their first year sits at two, they’re the exception. Start him.

Craig: Yes, yes, yes. Kizer has all the measurables that I want to see in a QB prospect, but I think he should sit. I don’t think he came from a strong enough college system that the Browns can just cater a plan to him. As a result, he probably needs some time to just take it all in and absorb. It will be good for his mind and hopefully will encourage the kind of work ethic he’s going to need over the course of an entire career if he’s going to excel at the QB position in the NFL.

Does the depth chart for the first two games of the preseason matter for the quarterbacks?

Gerberry: Nooooope. Game 3 is the one that matters the most, as evidenced by the fact that Joe Thomas hasn’t played in a preseason game yet and has said himself that Game 3 is the most important. Let Kizer play a half on Monday night and get some more game time.

Gilbert: As Head Coach Hue Jackson said on Wednesday, the most important depth chart is the third preseason game. Whoever is starting in Game 3, they will most likely start opening day. I do think Kizer moving up to the second spot on the chart after one game shows that he is rising in the eyes of the coaches.

Josh: Not at all. The only one that matters is the one for the third preseason game, which is what Hue Jackson alluded to last week.

Bode: Nope. Hue Jackson, Joe Thomas, and others have all noted that Game 3 is the dress rehearsal, i.e. the only one that matters. With Joe Thomas sitting the first two games of preseason, I am fine letting Brock Osweiler be the one “protected” against first-string defensive ends by Cam Erving and Rod Johnson.

Scott: Not one bit. Games 3 and 4 will be the deciding factors. I actually like Brock Osweiler getting the start as his play in Week 1 was so bad, all he can do is cement himself as second-string or surprise the shit out of all of us. The best way to prove one way or the other is to have him do it with the ones, providing a truer gauge of live action.

Craig: It matters only in that Kizer hasn’t been put in the starter’s position just yet. Not really though.

Who do you believe should be starting Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Gerberry: Should be Deshone Kizer, and more than likely will be Deshone Kizer. The game plan is going to be running the ball and game efficiency, which are things that are well within Kizer’s perview.

Gilbert: I believe DeShone Kizer should be starting Week 1. He has the most talent of all the quarterbacks. He is the least experienced quarterback, but neither Brock Osweiler nor Cody Kessler has emerged and taken the job. Those two have not looked like veterans who can lead the offense with a veteran mentality to make the right decisions on the field. So, without the advantage of having a veteran mentality, talent wins and Kizer has the most talent.

Josh: DeShone Kizer. Give the rookie a chance right off the bat. It’s not like the Browns are a playoff team. Give Kizer as much experience as possibly and a chance to prove his ability to be an NFL quarterback as much as possible this season. If anything, hand the ball off to the running backs, and throw short routes to guys like Duke Johnson, Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt, and David Njoku to allow him to gain some confidence.

Bode: All of the rhetoric by everyone in the Browns organization has indicated they want to start Osweiler in Week 1 against the Steelers. I hope that Kizer forces the issue. I would not be surprised to see a re-occurrence of 1999 where the veteran starts the season, then everyone remembers “Oh yeah, that guy is horrific. Let’s go with the stud rookie.”

Scott: Kizer. But if the Browns run the ball fewer than 25 times in that game, it’s a disservice to everyone involved.

Craig:I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I choose Brock Osweiler. That’s not any sort of belief in him, but I think strategically it’s the best bet. I say this knowing that the Browns could string together four or five three-and-outs in a row without much difficulty with Osweiler at the helm. It’s a pain I’m willing to accept.

Grab bag

What position battles — other than quarterback — are you most interested in watching the rest of the preseason?

Gerberry: I am most interested in seeing if anything comes out of the wide receivers. It’s been disappointing that there has been so little addition to the position other than Kenny Britt in the offseason and a few low round draft picks. Hoping to see more production out of Corey Coleman, Jordan Payton and Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins.

Gilbert: I am most interested in the tight end battle. Randall Telfer, Seth DeValve and David Njoku are battling for the starting job. Njoku missed the first preseason game, but is expected to play on Monday for the second preseason game, so we get to see all three on the field in real game action. It is a position with so much youth and potential. I am just interested to see how the coaches use all three and who gets the starting nod.

Josh: Receivers and tight ends. I know we were only supposed to choose one, but players in both groups need to step up and prove that they can be playmakers on the outside. With so many questions for both positions, it would be great to see some guys play so well that they set themselves apart from the rest of the group.

Bode: Even Hue Jackson has been mentioning how frustrated he is with the wide receiver group. Finding players who can create separation and help the offense is important. I’m still surprised that Jackson hasn’t thought about moving Njoku wide in a Marques Colston role. He could take a bunch of the routes he drew up for Terrelle Pryor and give a big arm guy like Kizer a deep threat. Of course, maybe Jackson is saving that for the season.

Scott: I’ll go with defensive line. With Danny Shelton on the shelf for a few weeks, the interior is wide open. Does Jamie Meder get Shelton’s spot, or do they go with Trevon Coley who has been lighting it up since Day 1 of camp? Can Larry Ogunjobi move up the ranks? Does Caleb Brantley even make the team? (Aside: His injury could not be timed any worse as he’s stuck behind Xavier Cooper as the seventh interior lineman on the depth chart.)

Craig:Receivers. The Browns didn’t get it done with Terrelle Pryor. The Browns signed Kenny Britt. The Browns drafted Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Jordan Payton, and Rashard Higgins a year ago. They’ve not only got to handle the position battle, but somehow field a real receiving corps. The Duke Johnson as slot receiver thing seems cool, except that it might be out of necessity because the team failed to properly fill the position via draft and free agency.

What do you need to see from the Browns to have any confidence they won’t be the mess they were on the field last year when the regular season begins?

Gerberry: Solid play from the offensive line will help assuage fears of a repeat of last year. Upgrades up front will mean more time for the quarterbacks, bigger/better holes for the running backs, less time on the field for the defense and more health across the board for the team.

Gilbert: I want to see the first- and second-year players continue to develop and impact the preseason games for the Browns. I want to see them make plays and fly around the field. I would like to see impact plays from the Browns draft picks, showing that the organization is picking the right guys and developing the team with the right guys.

Josh: Development and them never giving up, no matter how much they could be down on the scoreboard at times. Record wise, this season may be another tough one, but as long as they show heart and keep getting better as the season goes on, that’s all Cleveland fans can ask for in 2017. For the first time in awhile, I’m somewhat excited for the Browns this season and it’s because of the young talent they have.

Bode: Going heavy on both sides of the line of scrimmage helped my confidence going into the season. Now, we need to see the defense be as exciting as we expect them to be. If they give up some big plays, so be it. I want to see positive big plays too. Enough to offset them. On offense, let Kizer air it out a bunch and set Crowell and Duke up in space. Make football fun again.

Scott: It’s a game of execution. All too often, I feel the Browns have fallen victim to a coaching staff who desperately wants to compete with the big boys, but doesn’t take into account the pieces they’re working with. The best-laid plans are worthless if they can’t be executed by the men on the field. While the preseason isn’t the best gauge for play-calling, both sides of the ball need to execute upon the most vanilla of sets. If they can do this, I’ll feel much, much better heading into Week 1.

Craig:The defense. The Browns’ offense should be better, but I’m pinning my hopes on this defense with high draft picks like Garrett and Peppers, as well as veterans like Kirksey and Jamie Collins.

Any other thoughts?

Gerberry: I am a hopeless optimist about pretty much everything, but this is the most I’ve been excited about a Browns roster in a long time. Up and down the roster are players that are exciting, whether it be top caliber rookies or players finally being put in a position to produce on this roster. Players like Duke Johnson and Nate Orchard are being utilized to the best of their potential.

Gilbert: I am really excited about the youth on the roster. I have not had this much excitement to watch the preseason games. Starting with Myles Garrett, DeShone Kizer, Jabrill Peppers, the roster has a multitude of young men who can make this season exciting to watch even if they are not winning many games.

Josh: Make The Browns Great Again.

Bode: I enjoy listening to this group of football executives and coaches. I like the group of players they have assembled on and off the field. Now, I really hope that they can make this work to keep the moment building towards having a consistent franchise.

Scott: I agree with Joe Gilbert. It feels like forever since we’ve been able to be this excited about young play-making types. The team’s first four picks all appear to be legit (which is a huge improvement over years past) and is the kind of situation that makes bad teams less so. They all need to grow, and the front office is far from done, but it finally feels like they are heading in the right direction.

Craig: Make me regret not purchasing season tickets this year. I’m salty about the team from my years attending games and covering them, but it wouldn’t take much to get me back excited.