How new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz lines up his D-line will be something to watch as Browns OTAs unfold. (TheLandOnDemand)
Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
If you stack the major checkpoints in an NFL season, organized team activities (OTAs) practices rank at the bottom.
So think about that. OTAs form the foundation of the season ahead. If there is no firm commitment from the vast majority of the team and team leaders in these “voluntary” practices, then the season starts with cracks in the foundation.
Let’s be real. No team ever won a Super Bowl in May. But if the commitment is lacking in OTAs, it’s never a good sign. Think Odell Beckham Jr. when he was acquired in trade in 2019. He showed up for one OTA practice. How’d that work out?
The Browns started their OTAs this week. It’s offense v. defense on the field for about 90 minutes a day for three days. Rinse and repeat next week. Followed by three days of minicamp. Followed by summer vacation. Followed by report to training camp.
The Browns decline to report attendance figures in the “voluntary” offseason program. I have heard a very important player on defense has not been an enthusiastic participant thus far and the new defensive coordinator wasn’t particularly pleased. Media will see for themselves on Wednesday. The NFL mandates every team to open one OTA practice to media every week.
Kevin Stefanski has cut down his OTA practices to just two weeks. That’s because the Browns will report to training camp a week early this summer as a result of being assigned to play in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton on Aug. 3 against the New York Jets.
OTAs are non-contact practices without pads. It’s about installation, rather than competition. With that in mind, there are a few things of interest to watch in the Browns’ OTAs.1. Deshaun Watson
Duh. Yes, Captain Obvious.
Watson looked fabulous in OTAs a year ago and we know how his six-game season turned out. So it’s not so much how Watson looks that’s important. It’s how Stefanski is using him.
Is Watson lining up exclusively in shotgun and pistol formations? Is he running zone read-option plays this early? Is he sprinting out of the pocket before he throws?
With Watson expected to have an uninterrupted preseason and regular season, Stefanski will install a new offense dedicated to exploiting Watson’s skill-set. That is expected to mean more pass plays, more multiple-receiver formations, and more designed quarterback runs.2. The wide receiver rotation
Amari Cooper? Check. Donovan Peoples-Jones? Check. After that, where is Elijah Moore lining up? What about Marquise Goodwin? And Cedric Tillman?
What happens to Anthony Schwartz, David Bell, Demetric Felton?
Will Stefanski show four-receiver alignments in OTAs? If so, does Cooper drop inside and join Moore in the two slot positions, with Peoples-Jones and Tillman manning the outside spots?3. Dawand Jones
The behemoth offensive tackle from Ohio State had a difficult rookie minicamp as line coach Bill Callahan worked him hard. On the second day, Jones took a knee and was slow to participate as he struggled to keep pace with Callahan’s demanding drills.
With the full offensive line complement on hand, Jones might find OTAs easier than minicamp because there should be more down time between reps.
However, Callahan will not suffer a laggard. Jones will have to pick up his game. It's a long way from here to training camp under an unforgiving sun.
4. Jim Schwartz
The new defensive coordinator is the most important addition of the offseason. So his involvement as a new voice on the field will be scrutinized.
Where is he spending his most time during position drills? Who is he hounding?
Former defensive coordinator Joe Woods was not a screamer. Schwartz is known to be a little more vocal. Bottom line: Will he call out Perrion Winfrey?5. Who’s lining up where on defense?
The Browns’ newly-reconfigured defensive line features newcomers Dalvin Tomlinson, Za’Darius Smith, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Siaki Ika, Maurice Hurst, Trysten Hill, and Isaiah McGuire.
What are Schwartz’s initial formations up front? Do Tomlinson and Ika line up together inside? Is Jordan Elliott still an incumbent starter at tackle? Who's on his No. 1 rush line? Which ends move inside?
What about the cornerbacks? When he lines up just two, is the second one Greg Newsome or M.J. Emerson? And who's the No. 1 slot cornerback?