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Breaking down what matters for the Browns during OTAs

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Players returning from serious injury? Selective message sending? The running game? We look at what does and doesn’t matter during OTAs.

NFL: Cleveland Browns-OTA Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Last week at NFL.com, Gregg Rosenthal wrote a nice feature titled “What matters and what doesn’t during OTA season.” Let us now take some of those subjects that Rosenthal mentioned and angle them specifically toward the Cleveland Browns.

What Matters

Players Returning From Serious Injury

Four players fit the bill of coming off of key injuries: DE Desmond Bryant (pectoral) on defense, and then four offensive lineman in OT Cameron Erving (MCL), OG John Greco (Lisfranc), OG Joel Bitonio (Lisfranc), and C Austin Reiter (ACL).

We’ve only been through one set of OTA sessions, but none of those four players were participating in practice, at least not during the one day that was open to the media. Bryant’s status will be the most interesting to watch. He missed a full year, the team has a new defensive system, and we’ve seen the club purge themselves of many veteran players. But Hue Jackson also saw Bryant as the potential leader of the defense last year, so he still presumably holds him in high regard. Will the infusion of young talent (Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, Caleb Brantley change that)?

Andrea also discussed Greco’s status earlier today, and what his roster odds look like for 2017. Bitonio is expected to be ready for this season, as he was injured far earlier in the 2016 season than Greco was. During OTAs, second-year guard Spencer Drango filled in at left guard. At right tackle, second-year man Shon Coleman is being pumped up as the favorite to start, but Erving is expected to jump right into the competition soon after being held out of team drills during OTAs.

Selective Message Sending

Rosenthal used an example of 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan making a quote that basically told respected veterans, “hey, just because you’ve been a starter doesn’t mean your spot is guaranteed -- you’ll need to earn it.” When it comes to Hue Jackson, though, I didn’t sense any selective message sending. If you read through his one transcript from the practice open to the media, it was filled with praise for all three quarterbacks (sorry, Kevin Hogan), Myles Garrett, and Isaiah Crowell.

The biggest message sent came from a player, though: QB Brock Osweiler. And I get the feeling that Osweiler’s potential ascent to the top of the depth chart will end up triggering a lot of dissent among fans. It was this back-and-forth spat with a reporter that went viral:

What you don’t see in the clip is Osweiler later on telling reporters, “Look, if I come out here and say, ‘I want to be the backup,’ then I’m in the wrong business. I know I have things I need to work on, etc.” But I think the feeling is started to simmer, even at a slow burn, that Osweiler could end up being the team’s starting quarterback in Week 1. Do we really think Cody Kessler’s arm strength will have improved enough to get the ball downfield? Will DeShone Kizer, at third on the depth chart, really have the reps (and progress) needed to start in Week 1? Or will Osweiler’s height, arm strength, and experience allow him to rise to the top?

Significant Injury Revelations and Updates

Fortunately, there weren’t any surprise injuries to report for Cleveland. Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers did not practice, and head coach Hue Jackson said, “We just had some slips, bumps and bruises here and there. We will be OK.”

What Doesn’t Matter

Veterans Skipping Work

The Browns don’t have anyone in a holdout, as evidenced by RB Isaiah Crowell showing up to the first day of OTAs. In terms of veterans missing practice who aren’t returning from a serious injury, two players fit that bill: LT Joe Thomas and WR Kenny Britt. Thomas has long-earned the respect of getting every other day of training camp off, so it’s no surprise that he’s getting time off during OTAs already. Heck, it’s at the point where a rookie tight end (David Njoku) thought he was a coach! Jackson said that Britt has taken part in some practices and will be OK.

The Running Game

This comes from Rosenthal’s article:

The Packers have practically eliminated the running game from OTA practices because it's so hard to simulate without pads or tackling.

I agree 100 percent that it’s darn-near impossible to make any judgment about running backs running the ball. You can’t go at full-speed with a defense trying to tackle yet, so how can you legitimately improve instincts, see gaps, get a sense of how to break through tackles, etc?

What we can learn is how some of these backs can block in one-on-one drills, or how they can catch the football. Despite being the second-to-last-pick-of-the-draft, there has been some praise for RB Matthew Dayes’ receiving ability, including from Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer:

Rookie Matthew Dayes caught a couple of long passes. The running back from North Carolina State was considered a good pass catcher in college and it shows.

Position Battles

We’re already looking at things like quarterback and tight tackle reps, but it’s way too early to make judgments about the depth chart this early in camp. Speculate all you want about Cody Kessler beginning camp as the No. 1 quarterback, but the order of “Kessler-Osweiler-Kizer” represents the typical default depth chart of “incumbent-veteran-rookie.” The default does not dictate what we’ll see four months from now.

The Daily Hunt for Headlines

As Rosenthal said, “Don't sweat Myles Garrett or Ezekiel Elliott missing a few practices in May.” We’re not sweating it, but make no mistake that we’ll always be on the hunt for headlines — we just won’t try to spin them into something they are not.

Next OTA Sessions

The Browns’ remaining OTA sessions are May 30-31, June 1, and June 5-8. Then, the final thing before training camp will be mandatory minicamp from June 13-15.