Seven thoughts following Browns’ Hall of Fame Game win over Jets


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CANTON, Ohio — With the Cleveland Browns moving past the Hall of Fame Game and on to the next phase of their preseason, here’s another dive into what we know about this team two weeks since it gathered for the start of full-squad training camp — and what we still don’t or won’t know until (at least) a little later in the summer.

Here goes.

1. We know the Hall of Fame Game was something the Browns had to do as part of their weekend celebration of Joe Thomas. But a franchise that’s big on long-term planning and one that’s had to be fine playing the long game since acquiring Deshaun Watson was always more focused on its own work and starting something of a normal preseason on Aug. 11 versus Washington.


Joe Thomas’ Hall of Fame moment was always a sure thing: ‘That guy is a complete legend’

Coach Kevin Stefanski laid out the summer practice schedule with the extra preseason game in mind, obviously, but never let the extra game alter the day-to-day plan for the first-team offense. We’re now at the time of camp where the offense is going to start going from the installation stage to the refinement and game-prep stage. With last year’s disjointed mess of a camp in mind, Stefanski has long had a vision for how the offense would start to evolve and show improvement. Expect Cleveland’s next two practices, Sunday and Monday, to be important (and high tempo).

Stefanski always viewed the Hall of Fame Game as a bonus opportunity for the younger players and the coaching operation. The Browns’ starters got their usual reps in a full-pads practice two days before the Hall of Fame Game and had a conditioning workout the morning of the game.

From my view, the end of the Greenbrier trip and the one practice in Berea two days ahead of the game versus the New York Jets solidified that Watson needs to play next week. That’s not to say Watson has been bad, but the good moments for the pass offense in camp were more plentiful in the first few practice sessions than they’ve been in recent days. It feels like the plan all along has been to point Watson toward a couple of series in game-like conditions in the lone preseason home game, and that should remain the plan.

There’s no panic, nor should there be. Amari Cooper is clearly on a practice pitch count, and Cooper is going to be a big part of things when the games matter. Also, sometimes in the full-team drills the defense just wins. Stefanski has always had a detailed plan for adding things to this offense and evaluating its growth, and the two biggest days from a competitive standpoint were always going to be the two practice days in Philadelphia. Those are still 10 days away, so let’s see how much progress the Browns can make between this weekend and then.

2. We don’t know for sure, but I’d expect most of the Browns — with players like Nick Chubb, Cooper, Myles Garrett and Joel Bitonio as the likely exceptions — to at least play a little next week. Then, we’ll get a better idea of who’s playing on the first special teams units and how Cleveland might view its top backups at certain spots.

What we’ve seen so far has mostly been pretty much one group at a time except at wide receiver and cornerback, and both of those groups have some experience behind the obvious starters. It’s hard to say how many actual camp battles are going to develop over the next few weeks, but any that do should start to really show themselves over the next week or so.

3. Back to the things I know: Kellen Mond started the Hall of Fame Game because he’s been with the Browns for 11 months, but Mond was always going to be a long shot to beat out fifth-round draft pick Dorian Thompson-Robinson for the third quarterback job.

The Browns were drawn to Thompson-Robinson in large part because of his maturity and football IQ, and all spring and summer Thompson-Robinson impressed with his attention to detail and the mock reps he takes behind each snap in practice. So Thompson-Robinson getting in the second half of a first preseason game and making things happen doesn’t mean the Browns definitely know what they have in him, but it also doesn’t come as a surprise. Thompson-Robinson helped the Browns erase a 13-0 deficit, and though the result means little in the big picture, winning always is the preferred option for the coaches and players putting in the extra long weeks.

I know there’s no panic about the Browns’ slow start in the Hall of Fame Game, either. It was strictly viewed internally as a chance to get some game reps for a bunch of young players — many of whom haven’t even gotten many full-speed, full-team reps in practice. These evaluations will carry forward, and we’ll see plenty of the backups and rookies again in the second half versus Washington and again in the Aug. 17 preseason game in Philadelphia. Even then, we’ll probably still have as many “don’t knows” as certainties.

4. I don’t know what’s going on with the Browns’ second defensive tackle spot. Jordan Elliott has been a starting defensive tackle for all of camp, but he started in the Hall of Fame Game — on a night when no other player slated for a steady role even dressed.

That’s curious. Maybe it can be explained away by saying the Browns are installing a new defense and only had six available defensive tackles on a steamy night, but Elliott was still playing into the second quarter. Again, this was not a night for starters and even the top backups.

In fact, that’s pretty much how Stefanski explained it after the game.

“There are guys playing in this game who are gonna help us on Sept. 10 (when the season begins),” Stefanski said. “Each person got snaps (in Canton) based on what we felt they need to get ready for Sept. 10.”

Maurice Hurst II started alongside Elliott versus the Jets. Hurst, who’s only played in two games the last two seasons due to injury, has been working with the second defense in practice. It feels like Hurst is going to make the team but had to play at least a little here because of the numbers crunch and because he’s shaking some rust.

In practice, rookie Siaki Ika has generally been next to Hurst with the second group. Thursday night, Ika and Tommy Togiai were with the second group. The team probably hopes Ika passes Elliott at some point this season, but there’s zero indication that’s happened yet.

The Browns reportedly had free-agent defensive lineman Shelby Harris in for a visit early in the week. There was no rush signing him because this was always supposed to be a game for the unproven players further down the depth chart, and because Harris, 31, has been a free agent since March. It’s long felt the Browns and Harris might be a potential match, but we don’t currently know where things stand.

Given that Browns defensive tackle Trysten Hill has missed the last two practices with a hand injury, any urgency to add another defensive tackle might be tied to his availability. If Hill can return to practice this weekend, Cleveland probably doesn’t need to make an immediate addition. Adding a player like Harris would be a decision that affects the 53-man roster and the eventual rotation. Hill isn’t guaranteed a roster spot, and even if he comes back to practice, the Browns could add a younger defensive tackle just for practice and preseason reps.

Harris has been durable. He’s only missed eight games over the last six seasons. Based on his resume, he’d be at least an upgrade to the rotation. Cleveland added Dalvin Tomlinson, Ika and Hurst because last year’s defensive tackle group was the league’s worst. The Browns should never have held out hope they’d get anything from Perrion Winfrey, so we’ll see if they’ll be active soon in trying to add to this remade group or if they’re willing to wait until late August.

5. We know Jerome Ford is the clear No. 2 running back. That’s not a surprise, nor is it especially noteworthy given how some of the Browns’ decision-makers gushed about him last year. But Ford is only a second-year player, and ahead of the Hall of Fame Game, we didn’t know if he would play for a series or two.

That Ford didn’t dress says he’s safely in that No. 2 spot. The two players behind him, John Kelly Jr. and Demetric Felton Jr., both had impressive moments and scored touchdowns Thursday night. I’m still not sure the Browns have room for a third running back on their initial 53-man roster — or that their No. 3 running back is currently on this roster. But Kelly and Felton are fighting to stick, and we’ll see how it shakes out in a few weeks.

6. We don’t know a timetable for wide receiver/return specialist Jakeem Grant Sr., who’s trying to return from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered almost exactly a year ago.

Grant has been back in practice on a limited basis and has been in front of the return lines on the days he’s participating. But the Browns haven’t said anything about when he will begin practicing every day or taking part in full-speed drills.

It’s impossible to assume Grant will win a role and roster spot until we see him all the way back (or at least working like he is), which makes it hard to predict what’s going to happen with the Browns’ returners. Grant potentially being the sixth wide receiver would push someone else out of a job, too.

Hassan Hall, the undrafted rookie running back from Georgia Tech, was the first kickoff returner against the Jets. Felton was first up as the punt returner. Jaelon Darden is injured and didn’t play Thursday, but Darden is having a strong camp and might make the team if Grant doesn’t. Darden is also a candidate for both return jobs.

Barring some other change in the wide receiver group, it’s impossible to see both Darden and Grant make the initial 53-man roster. The Browns gave Grant $3 million guaranteed in 2022 to revive their return game and contribute as a gadget player, so it will be interesting to see how this continues to play out.

7. We know that just staying healthy is at the top of any list of goals in early August. The Browns had wide receiver Daylen Baldwin (hamstring) and cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. (ankle) leave the Hall of Fame Game due to injury, but there was no immediate update on a prognosis for either.

Baldwin had a drop against the Jets, but he’s caught everything in camp. He’s a long shot to make the active roster but is a big target who has a real chance to again stay via the practice squad. Graham has a chance to win a roster spot as a backup slot cornerback and special-teamer. He’s had an active start to camp as well.

Rookie cornerback Cameron Mitchell followed up his big play in practice Tuesday with another to end a Jets drive. Mitchell is going to make the team, as draft picks generally do. The guys in charge like it a lot better when those players use camp and the preseason to steadily show improvement.

(Photo of Dorian Thompson-Robinson: Nick Cammett / Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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