On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens will welcome the Cleveland Browns to M&T Bank Stadium. To help preview the matchup, I was joined by Chris Pokorny of Dawgs by Nature and exchanged five questions. Enjoy!
1. What area do you see as the biggest improvement for the Browns heading into this season?
By far, the biggest improvements should be the upgrades to the Browns’ offensive line. Despite Nick Chubb being darn-near unstoppable last season, he did so with weak play from the tackle positions. Cleveland’s top move in free agency was signing Jack Conklin to be the team’s new starting right tackle, and their top move in the draft was selecting Jedrick Wills at No. 10 overall to be their left tackle.
The Browns’ perceived weakest spot would then be at right guard, where it was assumed that several players would compete to try to win the starting job. To everyone’s surprise, Wyatt Teller, who finished last year at right guard, showed up to camp having bulked up significantly this offseason, and he did so well that there wasn’t even a competition needed. The Week 1 results of the line are still probably going to be iffy, because the team has a new head coach, new system, and a shortened offseason to try to build that chemistry. But the foundation has been laid for Cleveland to, at some point this season, be one of the best line’s in the NFL.
2. The Browns offensive line struggled last season and the team addressed the issue quickly in the 2020 NFL Draft, taking Alabama OT Jedrick Wills with the No. 10 overall pick. Can we expect to see the rookie starting on Sunday? How was his training camp?
Yes, Jedrick Wills is going to be the starting left tackle, and head coach Kevin Stefanski has confirmed that they will stick with the rookie as he tries to acclimate to the NFL. Not only is he a rookie, but he’s trying to learn how to play left tackle, since he was a right tackle for a left-handed quarterback in college. From what Browns fans have gathered in camp, Wills certainly has the tools, but the rushed offseason means he’s going to be susceptible to being beat until he gets some more live game experience under his belt. I expect Cleveland to rely on the strength of their other linemen, and utilize a tight end or chippers to help Wills out to begin the season.
3. The Browns went out and landed head coach Kevin Stefanski this offseason. What can you tell us about Stefanski and why was this a good move for the Browns?
For one, we made a big mistake in hiring Freddie Kitchens. I bought into the hype of the Browns’ offense doing well to close out the 2018 season, because I’m desperate for winning ways, and he showed some potential to operate a creative offense with a young quarterback. Unfortunately, fast-tracking an obscure running backs coach to a head coaching job proved to be way too much for Kitchens to manage. Game management, player management, strategy, accountability, etc. were not good.
The hiring of Kevin Stefanski shifts the Browns to being back on track — someone who has the coordinator experience and was raved about from Minnesota. No one watched Baker Mayfield’s mechanics fall apart on last year’s coaching staff, which drove me crazy — but it was one of the first things that Stefanski’s staff worked on. I think we’ll see Cleveland’s offense be run-heavy behind Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, with Stefanski using the playaction pass often to get Mayfield into a comfort zone.
4. What are the expectations for the 2020 Cleveland Browns?
Although I still think one can vouch for the level of talent the Browns had in 2019, the team clearly ended up being way overhyped at the beginning of the season. It’s one thing for the players and coaches to buy into the hype when everyone has been together for years and are proven winners, but without that proven foundation, frustrations mount when things go wrong and everything falls apart.
In 2020, I think the expectations are optimistic for the Browns, but much more grounded. The Browns will have the best rushing attack in the NFL (not counting quarterback-running teams!), but only when the passing game gets more efficient mid-way through the season will Cleveland start being the favorite to win every week as opposed to just a crapshoot. That will put them in the mix for a late-season wildcard chase in the AFC.
5. Pick one player on offense and one on defense who Ravens fans might not be familiar with, but could make a contribution for this week’s game?
Cleveland has so many big-name players on offense, that fans should be familiar with all of them. I will pick the “new” guy to 2020’s roster, though: tight end Austin Hooper. He formed a good level of chemistry with Baker Mayfield in camp, has great hands, and has historically been effective at getting open in zone coverage. On defense, I will go with linebacker B.J. Goodson. Honestly, Cleveland’s linebacker group is projected to be among the worst in the NFL, which is a bit scary. However, Goodson is somewhat of a veteran to the group, and will be in position to make a lot of tackles. Since there were no preseason games, we’ll learn quickly just like Ravens fans will just how good, average, or bad he is.