Si.com Browns Training Camp Rookie Preview - by Pete Smith Jul. 20, 2020 14-17 minutes Although the NFL, just like everyone right now, is day to day, rookies are scheduled to report to Cleveland Browns training camp July 21st. This would be the first time the coaches, the organization in general will have seen most of these players since the NFL scouting combine. The overall outlook for the players likely doesn't change, but the changes caused by COVID-19 and the precautions around it could have a dramatic impact on their rookie seasons. Right off the bat, teams are aware of what players have been doing in terms of their training, but not everyone had access to train the way Myles Garrett could, as an example. He has the resources to build his own gym, getting all the equipment he could want to prepare him for the season. Most of the rookies don't and are forced to do a lot of improvising. Players and teams have raised concerns about soft tissue injuries, so the first thing that will be worth noting is how they practice. Without OTAs or minicamps, the team may opt to ease their way in, not going all out this first week as they try to get the players physically prepared. The flip side of this is teams have to make some decisions pretty quickly. They have a week with the rookies before the veterans arrive and between the seven draft picks and undrafted rookie free agents, reduced overall practice time means a time crunch in terms of how long they can spend time developing them. The reps may simply not be there to spend to evaluate them properly. It's a tricky balance to strike for teams. The other part of this that will come into play is how these players learn. Players who can simply read the playbook and watch tape and understand what they need to do are going to be at an advantage. It's going to be more difficult for tactile learners that have to feel it. Yes, they can simulate certain things on the field, but it's different live. And in certain cases, that relies on being able to contact other players, such as with linemen and defensive players. Now, specific expectations for the draft picks and one undrafted rookie. Jedrick Wills, Left Tackle He's going to start. Maybe they have him operate with the second team initially when the veterans show up, but even that seems unlikely at this point. Wills is going to get every opportunity to lose the starting job. He's going to need every rep Bill Callahan to get him as he continues to transition to left tackle as well as adjusting to the NFL. Wills was a powerful run blocker in college, but for his rookie year, it seems more likely that he's going to be a better pass protector early. For the most part, pass protections don't change going from college to the NFL. It requires good feet, proper angles and a good base. Those are areas that can be worked on alone. Undoubtedly, if he faces off against Myles Garrett and Adrian Clayborn, he's going to have to learn fast in terms of the physicality and their speed. It's going to be an understandable challenge to learn on the fly. Run blocking is more difficult to improve alone and the difference from college to the NFL is massive. Bigger, faster, stronger is an understatement. Wills was overwhelming in his physical dominance at Alabama and it could allow some bad habits that will get punished in the NFL. If Wills finds himself struggling to get the movement he was accustomed to at the collegiate level, he may start to lunge to make up the gap. That's a risky way to block when it hits, it can pay off, but when it misses, it gets plays short circuited. Not only are NFL players bigger, faster and stronger, they also play smarter and that provides an additional variable. Wills has to get accustomed to consistently be in the right position and use his hands well. The key for him is avoiding getting into bad habits in the event he feels he's at a physical disadvantage. His strength is impressive, but especially against guys like Garrett and Clayborn, he's a 21 year old kid. Grant Delpit, Safety/Slot Just in how he seems to process the game, Delpit might be the most visual learner in the rookie class. That's not to suggest training camp will be easy for him, but he incorporates new information quickly and is able to react accordingly. That was a big selling point in why the Browns picked him. He plays with a notably high football IQ. Delpit was selected to start at free safety and it's entirely a matter of when he can take the spot. Andrew Sendejo was signed because even though he's likely only here for this season and may not have many years left in his NFL career, but he is a credible and capable veteran. He can execute at a level that's not going to be a weakness on the defense. Even if Delpit cannot unseat Sendejo this season, he will play in this defense. Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods has talked about a desire to play three safeties and has noted Delpit's ability to contribute in the slot at LSU. Against teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers, who at least have the capability to load up the field with tight ends, the Browns want to be able to counter in a way that doesn't expose them against the run or the pass. Delpit's size is prototypical and gives them a credible look in a three safety set that can defend tight ends while still being effective against the run. It's just a matter of how consistently Delpit can tackle. His technique is inconsistent and can be downright awful at times, which Delpit has been made painfully aware. Greedy Williams, also formerly from LSU, was dogged as a poor tackler in college, but was actually productive in that area. It's the same deal with Delpit. He missed tackles, but he also made a significant number of them. Williams wasn't without missed tackles, but he acquitted himself well in that area of the game as a rookie. If Delpit can follow a similar path, that would pay immediate dividends for the Browns. Jordan Elliot, Defensive Tackle Defensive linemen will always get reps in training camp, so Elliot will get his chance to prove himself. The question for him will be if he shows enough to make the team, which seems like a given, and then if he can show he's worth game reps. The latter might be a challenge for Elliot, but the Browns have a prescribed role for the former Missouri Tiger if he can get there. Along with free agent addition Andrew Billings, Elliot is a power player first and foremost. He does his best work when he's able to get hands on and drive opposing linemen off the ball. At that point, he can use a little wiggle to get off the block to make plays, but they need him to reestablish the line of scrimmage in the backfield. If he can do it, Elliot could see time next to Billings in a heavy package. That can be a tall order for a 22-year old rookie. The good news is the best case scenario, assuming players stay healthy, Elliot will be no better than the fourth best defensive tackle behind Billings, Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi. Elliot will have a tough field to prove himself against including Joel Bitonio, J.C. Tretter and the competition at right guard between Wyatt Teller and presumably Drew Forbes. If he's able to be effective against them, it bodes well for his rookie season, but expectations should probably be modest. If he's able to be active on game days and can offer a good 10 to 15 reps per game, that would be a success. Jacob Phillips, Linebacker Phillips is going to be interesting. He is young, but he's also obviously bright in how he sees the game. In the role he was asked to play at LSU, he was able to process information and get to spots before the offense, able to make impact plays along the way. The concern for Phillips is his physicality was inconsistent and his experience turning his back to the football was limited and often looked uncomfortable. Understanding that he's 21, he can continue to get stronger and hopefully increase his physicality. At his best, Phillips is going to get to play fast and find success. In the NFL, as a rookie, that is going to be a challenge. Working in his favor is the fact no one in the linebacker group as currently constituted is proven. Some have seen NFL snaps, but the coaching staff has not been afraid to say it's an open competition. Phillips will have his opportunity. As much as the Browns would love Phillips to come in and be a phenom, he could end up seeing the field as the best of what they have and still struggle. He played the weak side linebacker spot at LSU, but the team is saying they are cross training everyone to play both spots. The Browns could end up throwing a couple guys out there as starters and never take them off the field. It seems more likely that they may divide the spots into roles and play them accordingly. As an example, B.J. Goodson is a capable run defender, but to this point in his career, offers little, if anything against the pass. Mack Wilson has the skills to be a solid coverage linebacker, but struggles to read what the offense is doing, which can land him out of position. In obvious passing situations, Wilson could be an asset. The Browns would certainly like to have Phillips become a fixture at one of those spots, but their strategy in acquiring talent for that position is taking a bunch of low risk swings and hoping they can fill the job. If they stumble onto a star, that would be great. The position as a whole seems like it will have a limited scope in proportion with the investment they're making at that position. Harrison Bryant, Tight End/Wing David Njoku has asked for a trade, but there's no indication the Browns are entertaining that notion. Tight end requires an incubation period, allowing for physical development as well as understanding the breadth of everything the position demands, so the most realistic expectation for Bryant as a rookie is to be an occasional role player and third tight end in a jumbo package. They're gonna have to rep him to see where he is in terms of being an effective inline threat. More likely, he's going to be suited at least early as more of a wing player or space option. The wing in particular could be useful in short yardage and goal line packages where he might have some options to get some receptions off playaction. That is, unless the Browns actually take Myles Garrett up on his request to play some tight end. Bryant isn't as young as Njoku was coming out and he's an aggressive run blocker, but he's going to have to prove himself against grown men. That is a difficult adjustment. Fortunately, if everyone is healthy, they have Austin Hooper and Njoku ahead of him, so they can carve out a specific niche for him. allowing him to excel there before expanding it. Nick Harris, Center Harris will likely get a few reps at guard. The problem is the Browns don't have time to throw a lot of guard reps at him, because they need to focus their attention on deciding who the starter will be at right guard. That appears to be a battle between Wyatt Teller and Drew Forbes. They have other players that will need reps at guard as well. Harris could be an effective guard, but that will likely come with increased physical development, particularly in terms of his strength. In the mean time, he will be focused entirely on securing the backup center job behind J.C. Tretter, attempting to firmly beat out Evan Brown and Willie Wright. Harris is an ideal fit for what the Browns want to do in terms of scheme. His mobility and speed enable him to get to the second level or pull pretty easily. His physicality and effort has to make up for a lack of height. As he gets stronger, that will be less of a problem, but he got overpowered against some bigger defensive linemen in his collegiate career. The Browns defensive interior won't be any easier. Andrew Billings and Jordan Elliot are physically powerful players, the kind that gave Harris trouble in college. Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson can utilize both speed and strength. It could prove a difficult training camp for Harris, but if he can get through it, he will be significantly better for it. Donovan Peoples-Jones, Wide Receiver/Returner There's always an added value on positional players that can thrive on special teams. Jones has an advantage over someone like Jojo Natson simply because he can be a returner and a threat as a receiver. That is also the fastest path for him to get on the field on Sundays. Big, strong and explosive, he is a threat with the ball in his hands. The lack of minicamps and OTAs might hurt Jones in terms of reps and catching passes from quarterbacks, but Jones has great hands. He will need to get accustomed to catching them from Baker Mayfield, but the biggest area Jones needs to improve is at least theoretically one he could have improved working out by himself - route running. Whether he was with Jarvis Landry working out or he was recording himself and sending it to receivers coach Chad O'Shea, he could get better at dropping his hips, making cleaner cuts and just demonstrating better body control. Both Landry and O'Shea have a better eye for the finer points of route running than any of the coaching he received at the University of Michigan, which is an indictment of the Wolverines program. So as much as receivers would be better off being able to catch passes and work with coaching in person, Jones was provided time to attack his biggest weakness. A.J. Green, Corner The Browns spent a good amount of money to ensure they'd get Green as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State. His roster spot isn't guaranteed, but the Browns are going to give him plenty of opportunity to prove he's worth the investment. As with most of the younger players on this team, proving viable on special teams will be critical. If a player gets hurt or tests positive for COVID-19, teams won't be in a position to be able to suffer heavy losses on the roster and then have the remaining depth unable to contribute. Beyond that, Green is seemingly competing against Terrance Mitchell for a roster spot. Mitchell is on the last year or his deal and they could conceivably keep both, but that's not a guarantee. The other complicating factor is how the Browns view their safeties. Both Sheldrick Redwine and Grant Delpit have the ability to contribute in the slot, making a sixth corner potentially expendable. It may also simply allow Green to be focused on playing a boundary style corner as opposed to worrying about the slot.