The Green Bay Packers open up their preseason action tonight in Lambeau Field against the Cleveland Browns, and that means it’s time for us at APC to reach out to our fellow SB Nation bloggers for some insight on the opponent. This week, Tex spoke to Chris Pokorny, the head man over at Dawgs By Nature, to get a feel for the Browns’ offseason.
Cleveland went through a full revamp of the front office and coaching staff; new football operations executives and new head coach Hue Jackson appeared to put an emphasis on acquiring as many draft picks as possible, as the team made a whopping 14 (!!) selections in April. They also added Robert Griffin III to the quarterback competition with Josh McCown and draft pick Cody Kessler, and that job has apparently already been decided.
Here’s our Q&A with Chris, and hop over to DBN to see Tex’s responses to Chris’ questions when they go live.
APC: There are a lot of former Wisconsin Badgers on the Browns, and obviously many Packers fans are also Badgers fans or UW alumni. How has Joe Schobert looked in the first few weeks of training camp?
DBN: I think it's tough to judge defensive players outside of the cornerback position in training camp, so I don't take mean it as anything negative when I say that we've hardly learned anything about Joe Schobert's performance so far. What we have learned about is the role he'll be starting off in. When he was first drafted, the impression was that he'd play both inside and outside linebacker, with a little more emphasis on playing inside. Instead, almost all of his work has been on the outside. That could be a trickle-down effect of starting defensive end Desmond Bryant suffering a season-ending pectoral injury a week before the start of camp. That forced defensive coordinator Ray Horton to take Emmanuel Ogbah, the No. 32 overall pick who had been working at outside linebacker all offseason, to move to defensive end.
APC: Do you think it was the right move for new coach Hue Jackson to name Robert Griffin III the starter so early in training camp or should he have waited and held more of a competition for that job?
DBN: Given the way the quarterback competition had been handled up until this point, I think it only made sense to name Griffin the starter heading into the first preseason game. Griffin had been taking the first-team reps all offseason, including OTAs and minicamp. Everyone knew that there was no way the team would commit so much time to Griffin building chemistry with the ones, only to pull a surprise and name someone else the starter. The writing was on the wall, so the only thing that the lack of an "official" declaration by Hue Jackson did was make sure that Griffin remained committed to taking to the coaching around him. He showed improvement as each day of training camp went by, so prolonging this any further wasn't necessary, and removed any potential media-driven storyline distractions from the equation.
APC: It seems that the Browns selected every draft-eligible wide receiver in April - which of the rookies has stood out in camp so far and how will the receiver competition be affected by Josh Gordon's reinstatement?
Indeed they did -- the team drafted Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Jordan Payton, and Rashard Higgins. Coleman has had an outstanding camp; unfortunately, he'll miss this week's game with a hamstring injury, but early indications are that the team picked the best receiver in the first round. Higgins, who went in the fifth round but had a second-round billing, has been the next-most impressive receiver, primarily because his hands have shown to be very reliable. Louis is a speedster who is still very rough around the edges, so I have my doubts that he'll even make the team even though he was a fourth-round pick. Payton missed most of the offseason because he was still in college, but has started to come around lately to show some intrigue as a possession receiver.
Regarding Josh Gordon, I thought that Terrelle Pryor would be the odd man out once Gordon's suspension was over. However, Pryor has looked so fluid in his routes and is catching the ball better that -- and maybe I'll look like a big-time fool in a few months for saying this -- he looks like a receiver that a lot of NFL teams would be dying to have.
APC: Will veteran starters like Joe Thomas, Joe Haden, and Tramon Williams play on Friday night? And if so, how long do you expect them to be in the game?
DBN: I'd say that Joe Thomas will definitely play as long as Robert Griffin III is in the game -- maybe a series or two. Joe Haden is still coming off of ankle surgery and just took part in his first 7-on-7 drills of the year. I don't think Haden will play until the third preseason game at the earliest. Tramon Williams should probably see a series or two too; he's been one of the veterans getting days off of practice every other day, but those are just "veterans days off," not anything injury-related.
APC: Aside from top draft pick Corey Coleman, which of the Browns rookies do you expect to have the biggest impacts in their first year and in their career overall?
DBN: I'll start off with the three most-likely candidates: DE/OLB Emmanuel Ogbah (2nd round), OT Spencer Drango (5th round), and WR Rashard Higgins (5th round). I already touched on Ogbah and Higgins a bit. Ogbah might not be a high-impact player this year, but he's expected to see starter-level reps at some point, which puts him in position to receive more opportunities than most of the rest of our rookies. Higgins might be a third- or fourth- receiver at some point this year -- that's not much of an impact for most teams, but it's something. Drango is rumored to be the front-runner for the team's starting right tackle position. If he starts, he'll definitely have the highest impact besides Corey Coleman. However, Drango is competing with three other players for the starting role, so the job is far, far away from being locked up.