Quarterback Issues Confront Kevin Stefanski In His Third Browns Training Camp

Quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Jacoby Brissett were all smiles when they reported to training camp this week. Watson's imminent suspension could force Brissett into the starting role for the start of the season. (Cleveland Browns)

Quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Jacoby Brissett were all smiles when they reported to training camp this week. Watson's imminent suspension could force Brissett into the starting role for the start of the season. (Cleveland Browns)

Quarterback issues confront Kevin Stefanski in his third Browns training camp

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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.

Kevin Stefanski has longed for a return to normalcy in his tenure as Browns head coach, but it’s not happening.

The COVID-19 pandemic … practices canceled … games rescheduled … players and coaches stricken … Odell Beckham Jr. drama … Baker Mayfield drama … two personal bouts with COVID. It’s been one thing after another for Stefanski in his first head coaching job at any level.

Year 3 was supposed to be different. But here we are on the eve of the full team reporting to training camp and Stefanski doesn’t know which of his four new quarterbacks will be his starter on Sept. 11 against – who else? – Mayfield, who has been banished to the Outer Banks of the NFL with the Carolina Panthers.

The imminent Deshaun Watson disciplinary decision looms as the biggest issue of Stefanski’s third training camp – correction: of the entire season. How the coach manages a Watson suspension and prepares his replacement to start the season will be Stefanski’s most important task.

Otherwise, Stefanski’s third roster is loaded. Which is not to say each position group is without its own issues.

Here’s a rundown of them as the Browns prepare to take the field for the first time this summer on Wednesday at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus.


Projected starter: Deshaun Watson.

Others: Jacoby Brissett, Josh Dobbs, Josh Rosen.

Issues: How many games will Watson miss? How does Stefanski knock the rust off Watson in preseason while preparing Brissett to start for him during a suspension? In the event of a suspension, which Josh – Dobbs or Rosen -- serves as Brissett’s backup? All the while, all four quarterbacks are breaking into Stefanski’s offensive system.

Running backs

Projected starter: Nick Chubb.

Others: Kareem Hunt, D’Ernest Johnson, Jerome Ford (r), Demetric Felton, John Kelly, Johnny Stanton.

Issues: Keeping four is a luxury, so that surplus conceivably could result in a trade of Hunt or Johnson, both of whom are in the last year of their contract. If that is the end game, then Ford becomes a key factor. If the rookie from Cincinnati proves instantly capable of handling the tasks of a third-down back – picking up blitzes and being a dependable receiver out of the backfield – then Hunt could be expendable. It’s doubtful the Browns would trade Hunt merely to downsize, though. There would have to be a demand for him and a high enough return. Johnson has proven himself as a runner and special teams contributor, but his receiving skills might limit his marketability. In any case, this group is as solid as any backfield in the NFL.

Wide receivers

Projected starters: Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones.

Others: Anthony Schwartz, David Bell (r), Jakeem Grant, Ja’Marcus Bradley, Michael Woods (r), Isaiah Weston (r), Javon Wims, Mike Harley (r), Travell Harris (r).

Issues: Simply, is there enough here? The Browns want to continue the development of home-grown draft picks Peoples-Jones, Schwartz and Bell. Bringing in a beaten-up veteran could hinder that process. Bell’s placement on PUP-active with a foot injury doesn’t help. Schwartz missed time in his rookie camp and it haunted him through his first season. Grant was signed primarily as a return specialist, but he has 100 career receptions in six NFL seasons.

Tight ends

Projected starters: David Njoku and Harrison Bryant.

Others: Miller Forristall, Nakia Griffin-Stewart, Zaire Mitchell-Paden (r), Marcus Santos-Silva (r).

Issues: Will the enriched Njoku blossom into a consistent downfield play-maker at the receiving end of Watson’s aerials? His contract says it’s time. Uncertainty after Bryant and the expected increase in three-receiver and two-back formations should result in less 11 personnel (three tight ends). In Carolina, Mayfield must be thinking, “Why didn’t they do that for me?”

Offensive linemen

Projected starters: Jedrick Wills, Joel Bitonio, Nick Harris, Wyatt Teller, Jack Conklin.

Others: Chris Hubbard, James Hudson, Ethan Pocic, Blake Hance, Michael Dunn, Alex Taylor, Drew Forbes, Hjalte Froholdt, Dawson Deaton (r), Brock Hoffman (r), David Moore, Elijah Nkansah, Ben Petrula (r).

Issues: Conklin’s injury status at the start of camp has yet to be clarified. The return to health of sixth-man Hubbard lessens the urgency for Conklin to be ready in September, though that’s the plan. Wills needs to bounce back from a setback season and Harris is filling big shoes left by JC Tretter departure. But what elevates this group as a whole into league elite status are demanding line coach Bill Callahan and assistant Scott Peters. Callahan’s incantations during line drills – “I hated it! Do it again!” – are priceless.

Defensive linemen

Projected starters: Jadeveon Clowney, Taven Bryan, Jordan Elliott, Myles Garrett.

Others: Chase Winovich, Alex Wright (r), Perrion Winfrey (r), Tommy Togiai, Sheldon Day, Isaac Rochell, Stephen Weatherley, Curtis Weaver, Isaiah Thomas (r), Roderick Perry (r), Glen Logan (r).

Issues: Winovich has to regain his pass rush form from 2019-20 with the Patriots to be an effective third end. The tackle positions lack star power, but a decent rotation can be formed from those on hand. If Winfrey plays like he talks in interviews, he could be this season’s shot in the arm, like Malik McDowell a year ago.


Projected starters: Anthony Walker and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.

Others: Jacob Phillips, Sione Takitaki, Willie Harvey, Tony Fields, Dakota Allen, Silas Kelly (r).

Issues: This position group is not stacked because the Browns don’t run a linebacker-oriented defensive scheme. The emphasis on speed and lighter bodies causes concerns about durability. If everyone stays healthy, they have enough for what they want their linebackers to do. The issues arise when injuries keep JOK and Phillips, in particular, off the field.


Projected starters: Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome and Greedy Williams.

Others: A.J. Green, Martin Emerson (r), Herb Miller, Parnell Motley, Reggie Robinson, Shaun Jolly (r).

Issues: Coming off a good rookie season, Newsome is tasked with the toughest role on defense in his second year. He’ll play outside corner v. two-receiver sets and then move inside to cover the slot receiver in three-receiver+ formations. There aren’t a lot of cornerbacks doing that making from down to down. Unless another player emerges as a full-time slot cornerback, the Browns are vulnerable at the position. Otherwise, this group is five-deep strong as Green emerged as a dependable coverage corner last year and Emerson was tabbed as the team’s top draft choice (third round) in 2022.


Projected starters: John Johnson and Grant Delpit.

Others: Ronnie Harrison, Richard LeCounte, Nate Meadors, Luther Kirk, Anthony Bell (r).

Issues: Harrison’s return on a one-year deal gives coordinator Joe Woods the manpower to play his Big Dime (three safeties) schemeBut Losing M.J. Stewart to Houston in free agency was a blow. The opportunity demands LeCounte to step up his game in his second season.


Projected starters: Cade York (r), Corey Bojorquez, Charley Hughlett, Jakeem Grant.

Others: Joseph Charlton, Demetric Felton.

Issues: Unopposed as the place-kicker, York has the chance to make the biggest impact of all the draft picks. Bojorquez was a big-legged punter in cold-weather Buffalo (45.0 average) and Green Bay (46.5) the past four seasons, but has to sharpen his skills as a holder on placement kicks. Charlton is the alternative, and he’s not kicked consistently in cold weather. The Browns hope Grant can end the franchise's four-year drought without a touchdown return. Grant has four on punts and two on kickoffs in his six years with the Dolphins and Bears.