Training camp is long, and roster spots are going to be at a premium as new general manager John Dorsey has added a lot of talent to the Cleveland Browns roster.
But the grind from 90 to 53 is just beginning, and anything can happen. No matter who you think is locked into a roster spot, there are always intriguing and hungry youngsters looking to make a name for themselves.
Below we’ll take a look at three somewhat under-the-radar Browns who are trying to do just that.
DB Denzel Rice
Denzel Rice isn’t a rookie, so it’s not a shock that he’s turning some heads early in training camp. He played his college ball at Coastal Carolina and has spent time in Philadelphia and Houston since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2015. He spent time last season on Indianapolis’ practice squad before signing with the Browns on Jan. 31.
Second-year defensive back Jabrill Peppers noted Rice has been impressing people in the crowded but competitive cornerback room.
Jabrill Peppers says rookie DB Denzel Rice has surprised a lot of people. "Both Denzels have been good (laughs)."— Michael Hoag (@BrownsBeat) July 30, 2018
Rice has had multiple interceptions in camp to this point, and has generally been blanketing receivers while he’s on the field.
Here he is undercutting C.J. Board’s route for one interception (0:17 mark):
DAY 4 #BrownsCamp pic.twitter.com/MssAkeBJg6— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) July 29, 2018
He also had another pick in front of Jarvis Landry (pictured above).
Rice impressed with ball skills in preseason action for the Texans last season before falling victim to final roster cuts and ultimately joining the Colts’ practice squad.
TE Julian Allen
Rookie tight end Julian Allen has been seeing a lot of action with the second-team offense as Seth DeValve continues to be sidelined with a thigh injury. There was some chatter at camp asking who No. 86 was while watching from the sidelines.
Allen finished his Southern Miss college career with 22 receptions, 298 yards, and one touchdown in 15 games after transferring from Lackawanna College in 2014. He oddly played in just four games in 2017, and had only three receptions for 17 yards after a breakout 2016 season—Southern Miss tight ends had only 10 total receptions last season.
The tight end position falling out of favor at Southern Miss led to Allen’s slide down draft boards, which is understandable. But Allen is still the same player who was nominated to the John Mackey Award watch list entering last season. He has been touted as an all-around tight end with plus athletic traits, and he flashed some of that talent already at camp. Baker Mayfield connected with him for a touchdown on the second-team’s first goal-line offense simulation play on Monday.
If you’ve watched the Browns at all recently, then you know finishing drives in the end zone has been problematic. Allen is one guy to watch closely as training camp progresses, and he should definitely be in the conversation for a practice squad position.
WR Derrick Willies
Willies impressed instantly with his big 6’4” frame. The former Texas Tech Red Raider was lining up opposite rookie Damion Ratley with the second-team offense on Day 5, and he definitely looked the part.
Now, those reps will probably go elsewhere if and when Josh Gordon returns, but Willies has the opportunity make an impression in the meantime.
With Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman, Antonio Callaway, and special-teamer Jeff Janis probably penciled in for roster spots, Willies has an uphill climb to make the opening day 53-man roster. Veteran Rashard Higgins, sixth-rounder Damion Ratley, and undrafted rookie C.J. Board are also in the mix for that spot, should the Browns carry six receivers.
Willies finished his career at Tech with 36 receptions, 592 yards and six scores, with a 16-plus yards-per-catch average. He transferred from Iowa following his freshman season where he compiled just four receptions for 72 yards and one score.