Cleveland Browns: 4 biggest questions heading into mandatory minicamp

The Cleveland Browns are favorites to win the AFC North but there are still question marks heading into mandatory minicamp. Let's examine the four biggest questions facing the Browns in their quest for their first playoff berth since 2002.

The Cleveland Browns are in unchartered territory as the favorites in the AFC North. 

However, there are still some questions regarding the Browns as the team heads into mandatory minicamp.

Let’s take a look at the four biggest questions surrounding the Cleveland Browns as they attempt to live up to all of their press clippings.

Will every player be in attendance at the mandatory minicamp? the Cleveland Browns traded for wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the Browns have been the media darlings of the NFL. The hysteria that this acquisition has created in Cleveland and the buzz in the NFL that this blockbuster has created has gone unmatched.

Along with the talents of Beckham, you have to take on the circus that he brings with him. The entertainment started with the events surrounding voluntary minicamp. He only attended one practice and was placed on notice by head coach Freddie Kitchens, when asked what Beckham missed during the OTA practices in May via ESPN Cleveland.

“…A lot … the offense,”

It was the perfect response to a delicate question about his new temperamental superstar wide receiver. Beckham should have been at the practices to learn the new offense. Also to develop chemistry with his new quarterback Baker Mayfield, and learn his new teammate’s names. Bravo Freddie Kitchens!

Beckham did state that he WILL be there for the mandatory minicamp. Hopefully, this saga is now over.

Duke Johnson is expected to participate in the mandatory minicamp. With Johnson expected to be traded and Kareem Hunt waiting in the wings, Duke is looking at his final days in Cleveland but will participate.

One player who will not participate in the minicamp is Jarvis Landry. Landry is being held out of the minicamp due to an unspecified injury and that this is only precautionary. 

No need to risk further injury and this is a wise move by Landry and the Cleveland Browns.

Another player that the Cleveland Browns won’t see in this minicamp is the highly targeted free agent defensive lineman Gerald McCoy. McCoy decided not to join either the Browns or the Baltimore Ravens. He signed with the Carolina Panthers yesterday.

Which players are we looking forward to watching at mandatory minicamp?

Jermaine Whitehead

Browns claimed DB Jermaine Whitehead, who was waived by Green Bay on November 7th last year after being ejected for slapping a New England Patriots player in the face mask. Whitehead ended up playing seven games for the Browns last season, posting two tackles on defense and two on special teams.

The versatile safety worked with the first-team defense during the three OTA’s open to the media. New Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks called Whitehead “a leader” and has been one of the biggest surprises from the practices.

″[He] takes control when he’s out there,” Wilks said. ”[He] knows how to really communicate and articulate the defense and get everybody on the same page.

“He’s a guy that’s very smart and that can play multiple positions. You put yourself in a situation when guys get hurt, it’s really just plug and play with him.”

The Browns are Whitehead’s fourth NFL team. Whitehead has familiarity with starting safeties Damarious Randall and free-agency acquisition Morgan Burnett. They were teammates during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Whitehead has a chance to become a much more important contributor. NFL teams can never have too many defensive backs. His versatility will work well in conjunction with Steve Wilks’ defensive schemes.

Antonio Callaway

The majority of the Cleveland Browns faithful were waiting to watch big plays from Baker Mayfield to Odell Beckham. However, another wide receiver exploded in the OTA practices.

Antonio Callaway was named the Browns OTA breakout star by the Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton.

The second-year receiver turned heads in practices. There was a noticeable increase in his explosiveness that head coach Freddie Kitchens noted:

“He has added some explosiveness,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said Wednesday. “He has been catching the ball really well.”

Callaway had an up-and-down rookie season which he caught 43 receptions for 586 yards and five touchdowns. If he continues on his ascension with the likes of Odell Beckham joining the Baker Mayfield-led offense, look out NFL!

Greedy Williams

According to the Akron Beacon-Journal, cornerback Greedy Williams has been lining up as one of the two outside corners along with Denzel Ward in the Browns first-team defense.

The Cleveland Browns drafted one of the steals of the 2019 NFL Draft when Greedy Williams fell to them in the second round. Williams is already pushing for a starting cornerback job as a rookie.

If Williams realizes his potential and last year’s first-round pick Denzel Ward continues his ascension, the Browns will have one of the most talented cornerback duos in Cleveland since the Frank Minniefield-Hanford Dixon days in the 1980s.

Who will win the competition at right guard?

Austin Corbett?

The battle to replace the traded Kevin Zeitler, who was given a 91.7 pass-blocking grade by Pro Football Focus which was the best among all NFL guards in 2018, will be a significant aspect of the Browns minicamp.

The speculation was that Zeitler’s successor at right guard would be last year’s 33rd overall pick, Austin Corbett. He was a longtime starter at left tackle at Nevada. However, Corbett is undersized to play on the outside, so he was pointed to playing an interior position. He spent the majority of the 2018 season serving as a backup guard while learning the nuances of playing an interior position.

The biggest obstacle to playing time for Corbett to crack the lineup is the interior of the line, who was the foundation of an offensive line that gave up just five sacks during the second half of the season — by far the lowest of any team in the league.

If the Browns want to continue to play at that elite level, the right guard position needs to be solidified immediately.

Kyle Kalis?

Unfortunately for the Cleveland Browns and Austin Corbett, Corbett has noticeably struggled in the OTA practices. His struggles have allowed practice squad player Kyle Kalis to get an expanded look and an excellent opportunity to claim the starting right guard job.

Kalis was a four-year starter at Michigan and spent his rookie season with the Indianapolis Colts. He arrived in Cleveland the last offseason and played in three games for the Browns with zero starts.

Kalis was taking the vast majority of all the right guard snaps throughout the OTA practices. Corbett was taking snaps as the second-team center.

Cleveland Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens explains the right guard competition between Kalis and Corbett:

“I think all those guys are legitimate contenders. I do not know… You have only seen Kyle. I do not see it that way. They rotated every day. It just has not been the days that you guys have been out here,” Kitchens explained Thursday.

Kalis seems to be in the lead on Corbett for the starting right guard spot. There are a lot of things that can happen between now and the kickoff week one against the Tennessee Titans.

The battle will be intense, especially when you take into account that the Browns are the media darlings as we head in the 2019 season. The right guard spot is one of the few open starting roles available on a Cleveland team that is projected to be playoff-bound.

Could the emergence of running back Dontrell Hilliard make Duke Johnson expendable? Chubb is the only running back on the Cleveland Browns roster that has a specific role. Chubb will attempt to build upon on an impressive rookie season and be the go-to back for the Browns this season. After Chubb, there are loads of uncertainty.

Duke Johnson requested a trade and has skipped all the offseason activities thus far. This series of events has led to the second-year back Dontrell Hilliard to possess an excellent opportunity to compete for snaps this season. Johnson is one year removed from a three-year deal. His trade request could allow the avenue Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey utilizes to ship the malcontent running back out of Cleveland.

Hilliard seems to have coaches on his side

With Kareem Hunt suspended for the first eight games of the 2019 season, Hilliard has a golden opportunity to impress Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens with his offensive contributions. Currently, new Browns RB coach and former NFL running back Stump Mitchess is a Hilliard fan:

“He’s got to believe that he belongs and we expect him to come out every day and make plays,” Mitchell said of Hilliard during the final week of OTAs. “I think what he has to understand is that he has to believe in himself as much as we believe in him. Now, he’s getting an opportunity. This is huge for him, and he’s having one heck of a spring training camp.”

Hilliard continues to impress and was one of the winners of the Browns OTA practices. In his rookie season, he did not log any carries. However, he did catch nine passes and served as one of their primary kick returners.

It seems inevitable that the Browns will trade Duke Johnson, it’s just a matter of when. Hilliard seems primed to take over the role that Johnson currently owns as a pass-catching running back. Additionally, he can give Chubb a breather. Hilliard will hand over the reins to Kareem Hunt once Hunt returns from suspension. Meanwhile, Hilliard can make a name for himself as he did in the OTA practices. He will provide even more excitement in the Browns backfield.

Final Thoughts

The NFL world will be keeping a close eye on the Cleveland Browns. With mandatory minicamp starting this week, the anticipation is overwhelming.

Here’s hoping that the minicamp provides even more excitement and encouragement as we see what the OTA winners can accomplish against all of the Browns starters.

Additionally, stay tuned for more Cleveland Browns and NFL coverage and hit us up on twitter @PFN365 with questions, comments, and to talk more football.

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