On Friday night, the Buffalo Bills will take on the Cleveland Browns in their second preseason game of the year. There are plenty of storylines in this game ranging from the Bills quarterback competition to Tyrod Taylor facing his former team for the first time since the trade this offseason. We talked to Chris Pokorny from Dawgs By Nature to get a scouting report of the Browns heading into the game.
1) With Baker Mayfield being the first overall pick, do you think the competition with Tyrod Taylor is real or is it just a matter of time until Baker is in charge?
All offseason, there has been a clear tone that there would not be a competition in training camp between Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield. Taylor is the definitive starter in 2018, and Mayfield is the rookie who everyone is excited about. So far, that approach has worked out extremely well. Taylor has brought a respected veteran presence to the locker room and has played well in camp, while everyone (players and coaches) are acknowledging the excitement that they have for Mayfield’s play too.
Mayfield is competing every day, but it seems to be a situation where Taylor understands he is locked in to start for a year or two before possible handing over the reigns to Mayfield (and Taylor likely knows that if he plays well enough, he will have earned himself a contract somewhere else with no hard feelings toward Cleveland). It seems like a win-win for both guys.
2) Given Jarvis Landry’s history against the Bills, do you think there may be some altercations during the game?
If this week was any indication, then yes -- I mean Jarvis Landry got upset at one of our defensive backs during practice this week, thinking he stepped on him, so he got up and threw the football right at his face from close range. Last week, Landry also drew a 15-yard penalty for mixing it up with a defender on his very first catch of the game. Landry has been the MVP of Browns training camp with his highlight catches and passion. In all seriousness, I’d like to think that Landry won’t escalate things for a preseason game, but with all the other factors involved (Tyrod Taylor and Corey Coleman each facing their former teams), I guess he has a higher chance than usual at getting caught up in something.
3) This is nowhere near the same Browns team that went winless last year. What has been the biggest change in this team that you’ve noticed?
As silly as they may sound, I think it’s the non-players who have helped drastically change the tone of the team. As much as I defended former Browns general manager Sashi Brown and his analytical approach, new GM John Dorsey, very much a traditional football guy, has brought in a lot of new players (both young and old) to address the teams’ struggles. Hue Jackson, who was 1-31 the past two years as a head coach, was stripped of his offensive coordinator duties when Todd Haley was brought in. Haley adds a fresh injection to the offensive playcalling, while Jackson seems a little more invigorated now that he can actually focus on managing the team as opposed to having his head buried in a playsheet 24/7. All of those little things has helped players, fans, and the media buy-in just a little bit more, and that’s the type of thing that can reset a culture.
4) Who has been your diamond in the rough during training camp so far?
Every year, I have about three diamonds in the rough I could tell you about -- players who were late-round picks or undrafted guys who really shine in camp and on the field. For some reason, this year hasn’t really been like that. The closest name on offense I can give you are third-year receiver Rashard Higgins, who has been the co-MVP of camp (alongside Jarvis Landry) for all the catches he’s had from both Baker Mayfield and Tyrod Taylor. On defense, veteran cornerback Terrance Mitchell has been a bit of a gem. The reason I say that is because Cleveland signed three cornerbacks this offseason, and Mitchell was just supposed to be the special teamer of those three guys, while the other two (T.J. Carrie and E.J. Gaines) would compete for a starting role. Instead, Mitchell has risen to the top.
5) Which area do you think the team has the most to improve in?
I would go with the defensive tackle depth. Last year, the Browns did not have a superstar group at defensive tackle, but they had above average play from a rotation of about 5 players there. That surplus in talent made them believe they could trade Danny Shelton away to the Patriots this offseason. At first, it seemed great. But now, two of the Browns’ rotational players, Trevon Coley and Caleb Brantley, have been injured most of camp. That leaves Larry Ogunjobi and Jamie Meder as the only two defensive tackles the team has confidence in, so it’s a bit rough to go from being 5-deep to 2-deep so quickly. There isn’t an immediate fix to that problem either.