The Browns are nowhere close to being ready to play a regular-season football game right now. They would be the first to tell you that, in fact.
However, as the process goes along for getting to that point, the Browns are coming to the point in the voluntary offseason program where things can at least start accelerating a little bit. They’ve finished off two phases of the program, and commence the third and final phase this week.
The third phase is the one that can draw the most attention because it involves full-team on-field work, or organized team activities (OTAs). The Browns are scheduled to have three OTAs running Tuesday through Thursday each of the next two weeks, with the Wednesday sessions both weeks opened to the media.
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The offseason program concludes for the Browns with the only mandatory event on the schedule, the veteran minicamp. That will run June 6-8, with the team then scattering to points unknown until training camp starts in mid-July.
So what is everyone looking for during the OTA sessions? Here are three things specifically.
How will the Browns depth chart look, especially at receiver and defensive line?
It’s still the infant stages of the process, even if the Browns have been in their offseason program for more than month. That doesn’t mean there can’t be some things deduced from actually seeing the team on the field together.
The focus all offseason schematically has been on two things — the evolution of the offense in the first full year with Deshaun Watson as the starting quarterback and the new defense under first-year coordinator Jim Schwartz.
At this point, it’ll be hard to see the big picture on either of those with so little actual evidence from which to draw. However, seeing most of the players on the field together could at least provide some hints.
The receiver position figures to be fascinating with regards to grouping and alignment. That’s especially true with newcomers Elijah Moore, Marquise Goodwin and Cedric Tillman.
The same holds true with the defensive line, particularly when it comes to newly acquired players Za’Darius Smith, Dalvin Tomlinson, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Siaki Ika and Isaiah McGuire. What combinations does Schwartz, who loves to be ultra-aggressive with the defensive line, throw out there early and how deep does the rotation appear to go?
How sharp does Deshaun Watson look?
It’s a legitimate question even though it sounds ridiculous to ask at this point in time. Watson, and the rest of the team, will only be wearing helmets, so it’s not like they’ll be in full equipment.
Still, so much has been made about Watson having a full offseason with the Browns this year. To be even more specific, much as been made about the throwing sessions he’s had with his teammates, be it in Houston, Berea or, last week, Puerto Rico.
That’s why it isn’t ridiculous to expect to see a much sharper Watson as he goes through this round of OTAs than what was seen a year ago. It shouldn’t be a stretch to expect him to be more locked in with returning teammates like Donovan Peoples-Jones and David Njoku, who have been healthy all offseason, and at least a little further along with Amari Cooper even though the receiver is coming off offseason surgery on a core muscle injury.
Watson’s ability to get closer to his Pro Bowl form from 2019 and 2020 is what will determine the Browns’ ceiling. Time to start seeing where they’re starting from some four months from the opener.
Shuffling around the Browns secondary skill under Jim Schwartz
This is along the same lines as the first point in that it deals with adjusting to Schwartz’s scheme. However, it’s also independent in some regards because it goes back to some things that have been an issue for a year now.
That specific issue revolves around the slot cornerback position. That’s the spot Greg Newsome II, almost by default, wound up playing the significant bulk of the snaps at last year when the Browns were in three-corner looks.
Newsome certainly figures to get some run in that spot again this season, even after he made some noise in the offseason about how he was played last year. Does second-year corner Martin Emerson Jr. see a bigger number of snaps in there, or last month’s fifth-round pick, Newsome’s friend and former Northwestern teammate Cameron Mitchell, try his hand there?
The safety position is really no different. The Browns’ signing of Juan Thornhill and Rodney McLeod opens the door for more three-safety looks, while also allowing fourth-year pro Grant Delpit to spend more time in his more natural spot as the box or strong safety.
Chris Easterling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/browns. Follow him on Twitter at @ceasterlingABJ.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Deshaun Watson’s connection, scheme alignment top Browns OTA questions