As the Cleveland Browns transition from training camp to regular season mode ahead of their Week 1 match-up in Baltimore versus the Ravens, the injuries are the biggest storyline for Browns entering the 2020 season. As of the writing of this piece, the Browns are without several key contributors on the offensive line, linebacker, and cornerback positions. Some of these injuries are minor and some major, but if the Browns hope to pull off their second straight win in Baltimore they are going to need some players to step up.
JC Tretter’s health, among others, is vital for Week 1 of the 2020 season
Signed in 2017, Tretter has not missed a start in three seasons with the Browns, including a 10 game stretch in 2018 where he wore a walking boot all week long except for game day. To this point, Tretter has yet to even dress for practice after a late summer surgery for loose bodies in his knee. Tretter is a rare blend of athleticism and strength at the center position. The current NFL Players Association President is one of the few centers in the game who has the ability to pull in the run game, which matches new head coach Kevin Stefanski’s offensive style very well. Tretter’s health is one of the major Browns storylines ahead of Week 1.
We have to assume if we don’t see Tretter by Monday that the Week 1 start will go to rookie Nick Harris. Harris, a fifth-round draft pick out of Washington, has the athleticism that fits the new Browns offense. The question will be his lack of size and strength against a Ravens duo of Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell. Williams has 35-40 pounds on Harris and Campbell is almost eight inches taller. Harris has been the first team center all of camp, but this is a very tough assignment for any rookie, let alone one with an abbreviated off-season.
The cornerback position is deep but dinged up
The Browns put a major emphasis on building their cornerback room for 2020, bringing in four at the position. The group has been outstanding all summer long from the top of the depth chart to the bottom. However, three of their top five have now missed significant time. Kevin Johnson is week to week with a lacerated liver, while Greedy Williams has been day to day for over a week now with a shoulder injury. Recently acquired M.J. Stewart has also been out over a week as well with a hamstring injury.
With the Browns starting the season on the road against the Baltimore Ravens Joe Woods would like to have his full arsenal of cornerbacks. With tackling being of the utmost importance against the Ravens, having Williams and Stewart back, both of whom were sure tacklers last season is imperative. The Browns were able to contain the run game in the first half when they last faced the Ravens in Week 16. However, in the second half, their decimated roster just couldn’t hang with the Ravens offense any longer. To have a shot at a Browns win in Week 1 of the 2020 season they need to control the run game and force Lamar Jackson into more obvious passing situations.
Have the Browns’ got the answer to replace Grant Delpit?
The Browns drafted Delpit with one of their seven draft picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, with the vision of him being a movable chess piece in the secondary. In camp, he was lining up as a “big” nickel covering tight ends and running backs, while also playing the on the roof free safety spot. His loss hurt the scheme and forced the Browns into adding Ronnie Harrison from the Jaguars, sending a fifth-round pick in the opposite direction.
Harrison is a former third-round pick out of Alabama and has been solid for the Jaguars through his first two seasons. In 2019 he started 14 games at strong safety, racking up 71 tackles, nine passes defended, and two interceptions. The addition of Harrison allows the Browns to use a combination of him, Karl Joseph, and Andrew Sendejo in various sets this season.
Joseph’s best play while in Oakland was closer to the line in run support, a role he will be required to shine in when Week 1 rolls around. Sendejo, while not the athlete Delpit is, can cover tight ends and backs or play the free safety role while Harrison takes on coverage duties. The fourth name to consider is Sheldon Redwine, now in his second season, who figures to be a deep free safety when on the field. With Harrison still suffering from a concussion at the last report, Redwine will be vital in helping cornerbacks with covering Marquise Brown and his vertical threat.