The weather was ideal and attendance perfect for the 2021 Cleveland Browns mandatory minicamp. Free agent Jadeveon Clowney seemed happy with how things were going, exuding an almost jovial attitude when addressing the media. All the Browns players who are reintegrating after season ending injuries appear to be on schedule, if not ahead of their individual recovery timetables.
Head Coach Kevin Stefanski seemed pleased with what they got accomplished during the three days of work. He talked about practicing at the appropriate intensity level for the given situation, “We are trying to be really smart about our pace, particularly when we are in team periods. Going full speed in those periods, it just does not make sense,” Stefanski said.
“There is injury data to back that up, and just thinking about helmets and (shells), the guys are not wearing shoulder pads, so it is hard to protect themselves. We feel like we can go full speed in individual (drills) to work on our technique, and we can go full speed in seven-on-seven and take care of each other and stay away from collisions. When we get to those team drills, we are really putting an emphasis on alignment, assignment and communication, and then we are just going to slow it down post-snap.”
Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward and Nick Chubb were all asked about contract extensions and all three efficiently disposed of the topic with similar statements about their focus being on the field. Ward and Chubb both did say they would like to remain in Cleveland.
Other than the all-around positive feeling about the team’s progress and togetherness, there were two things that stood out as the top take-a-ways from Browns minicamp.
Greg Newsome’s versatility could alleviate potential depth concern
The first is the versatility that first-round draft pick Greg Newsome III has shown thus far. One of concern was depth at the nickel cornerback position. The fear was that if, for some reason, Troy Hill were forced to miss some time during the season, the Browns would have to turn to someone who should not be on the field. We saw this way too much in 2020 with Tavierre Thomas and MJ Stewart logging way too many snaps as the team’s nickel corner.
When Newsome was drafted, he was profiled as an outside cornerback without much mention of his ability to slide inside and play in the slot. However, the Browns have been playing Newsome inside at the nickel corner position for stretches of practice since OTA’s and it continued with everyone in attendance at minicamp. This is a great sign as it solves a potential depth issue and leaves the Browns with two corners that have the versatility to play either inside or outside in Hill and Newsome.
Donovan People-Jones shows up looking great
The other note of significance from minicamp is the appearance and performance of second-year wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones. Peoples-Jones flashed some real upside as a rookie, and he comes with prototypical NFL wide receiver size and speed. The word around Berea is that he showed up to minicamp having even further transformed his body in the off-season. He already exhibits elite physical traits in a 6-foot-2 frame, so this is outstanding news. Especially, when the quarterback takes notice.
The future of the wide receiver room after 2021 is a question mark. Peoples-Jones turned just 14 receptions into an impressive 304 yards for a gaudy 21.7 yards per reception. He had a 70% catch rate, and quarterback Baker Mayfield had a near-perfect passer rating (145.8) when targeting him, according to rotoballer.com. If Peoples-Jones could grow into a legitimate number two wide receiver it could help GM Andrew Berry and the Browns front office to answer some critical questions about the future of the wide receiver position beyond 2021.