BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. continues to make slow but steady progress in his rehab from the ACL injury that cost him the last nine games of the 2020 season plus the playoffs. A healthy WR depth chart for the Browns’ revenge bid Week 1 at Arrowhead Stadium is crucial.
Cleveland’s coaching staff is playing it safe with the three-time Pro Bowler, giving him days off when needed, as was the case during Saturday’s glorified walkthrough. Beckham, who did barefoot rehab work before practice, isn’t yet ready for 11-on-11 work, coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters Saturday.
“We are just taking in all the advice of the medical team and Odell himself, and just making sure we do this the right way,” Stefanski added.
While he’s not expected to appear in the preseason, Beckham has gotten some one-on-one work with Baker Mayfield in an attempt to improve their chemistry.
A resurgent Beckham might be the final piece of the Browns’ long Super Bowl quest. The sense is there’s a ton of untapped potential in the partnership, but his unavailability throughout the offseason hasn’t helped that along.
“When you are talking about the pass game in general, it is about precision and it is about being accurate when you are throwing the ball, getting the right depth, running the right route and quarterback getting the right feel for how a receiver runs a route because all the guys are different,” Stefanski added. “There is great value in the work those guys are getting. It is scripted. The coaches know exactly what throws they want to get and in what order. Those two, that battery has gotten a ton of great reps over there.”
Donovan Peoples-Jones solidifying WR3 role on Browns’ depth chart
With Beckham out, there have been increased opportunities for Donovan Peoples-Jones, who looks to be on track to serve as Cleveland’s No. 3 receiver (despite two drops and a fumble Saturday).
The sense is Peoples-Jones is ahead of Rashard Higgins, KhaDarel Hodge, and Ja’Marcus Bradley. However, all four got work with the first team Saturday. Anthony Schwartz will be in the mix once his gimpy hamstring heals.
Perhaps the highlight of camp so far was a 70-yard bomb Peoples-Jones recently caught from Mayfield, creating tons of separation on his route.
Peoples-Jones caught 18 passes for 77 yards in 12 games as a rookie. But the former sixth-round pick looks poised for a big step forward in Year 2.
As for the tight end position, Austin Hooper, David Njoku, and Harrison Bryant seem to be the team’s top three options.
Grant Delpit injury update
Beyond Beckham, safety Grant Delpit is probably the team’s biggest question mark among players who sustained injuries last year. Delpit is 12 months clear of a torn Achilles tendon but was part of a group of at least nine Browns who worked with trainers during Saturday’s practice.
The Browns were pleased enough with Delpit’s recovery that they didn’t place him on the physically unable to perform list to start the season. That suggests they have reason to believe the team’s 2020 second-round pick will be recovered in time to appear in one of the season’s first six games.
Safety Ronnie Harrison Jr., cornerback Denzel Ward, tackle Chris Hubbard, linebacker Montrel Meander, and linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. were also in the group of those who did not practice Saturday.
Browns excited for pass-rush potential
Good luck to the offensive lines of the AFC North. The Browns will bring two former No. 1 overall picks off the edge this fall: Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, who signed a one-year, $8 million contract in the offseason.
Right tackle Jack Conklin, who went against Clowney twice a year when Conkin played for the Titans and Clowney for the Texans, admitted the obvious Saturday: “I’m happy he’s on our side now.”
“You saw last year and in years past, a lot of teams just double-team Myles,” Conklin added. “When you get a guy like JD on the other side, you have to pick and choose. Are you going to double team this guy this time or are you going to let them both go one on one? It is just going to help our defense so much being able to have those two there and free guys up on the play. I think you are going to see much more pressure on the quarterback.”
Having defensive tackle Andrew Billings on the roster after he opted out in 2020 should help too.
Billings is one of the strongest guys in the league. He told reporters Saturday that, even in high school, he could deadlift over 700 pounds, squat over 800, and bench press 500.
“Guys like Clowney and Myles, us pushing that pocket, getting pressure in there so quarterbacks can’t step up … if we do our job, it should increase their sacks and also help us out,” he said. “When a quarterback does step up, they step into our arms. Definitely we help them out, complement them.”
Browns in the Trenches: Iron sharpening iron
The Browns’ loaded offensive line should benefit from going up against that front seven every day.
And that group was already operating from a position of strength. With over $50 million in cap space dedicated to the offensive line in 2021, expectations are high.
Conklin is back at right tackle. Wyatt Teller is projected to start at right tackle. J.C. Tretter is a dependable center. Left guard Joel Bitonio is a three-time All-Pro. And Jedrick Wills, Cleveland’s left tackle, was on the PFWA all-rookie team in 2020.
So they have talent. And they’re not shy about their desire to be viewed as the NFL’s top offensive line.
“We can be,” said Conklin, who got a veteran’s day off from practice Saturday. “Last year is last year. This is a new year. We have to re-establish ourselves. We don’t look at ourselves as being the best. Everyday, we look at the film and there’s stuff to fix. We have got a long way to go to be the best. It’s our goal. We definitely think we are capable of being that. But there’s a lot of camp left and a lot of stuff to get fixed up and make better. We have to keep everyday coming in with that mindset.”
With Conklin unavailable Saturday, rookie James Hudson III got first-team reps at right tackle — which speaks well of the fourth-round pick’s performance so far in his young career.