Cleveland Browns GM Andrew Berry does his homework. After the coaching staff decided on their final 53-man roster, the waiver wire was next on the agenda, plus putting together a practice squad (PS).
Some media outlets are very high on the Browns this year.
Today’s PS is comprised of 16 players who practice all week, but do not qualify to suit up for games. They are paid $12,000 per week and usually run the scout team.
Just a few years ago, any team at any time could claim any other club’s PS squad players, but now a team can protect four players that cannot be poached. But if a PS player is claimed, they must be placed on that team’s 53-man roster which entails one athlete must be cut or moved to one of the injury lists.
Another PS rule that was changed was the purpose of the PS. It was devised as a method to give rookies or first or second-year players an opportunity to develop. Now, teams can house six veteran players with no limit on the number of accrued seasons they have. So, if the Browns wanted to sign say, 14-year veteran QB Matt Ryan to the PS and protect him for example, now they can.
The Browns may elevate any of their PS players for gameday at any time. However, another player must be released or moved to an injury list. Any PS player may be released at any time. In order to be signed to a practice squad after being released, an athlete (who is not a vested veteran) must first clear waivers.
Initially, 12 players who were in Browns’ camp this year were signed for this season’s PS. Here’s the list:
- CB Lorenzo Burns
- WR Jaelon Darden
- G Michael Dunn
- RB Hassan Hall
- DT Trysten Hill
- DE Sam Kamara
- S Tanner McCalister
- TE Zaire Mitchell-Paden
- DE Lonnie Phelps
- LB Charlie Thomas III
- DE Isaiah Thomas
- WR Austin Watkins
But Cleveland also signed three other players to their PS. They are OT Alex Leatherwood, K Lucas Havriskik, and QB P.J. Walker.
Who are these three dudes? Glad you asked. Let’s do a shallow dive into each.
OT/OG Alex Leatherwood
6’-5”, 312 pounds
Coming out of Washington High School in Pensacola, Florida, Leatherwood was named not only All-Area in both his junior and senior seasons, but First Team All-American by Parade Magazine. He was recruited by Mississippi State, Alabama, Florida State, Auburn, USC, Miami, Florida, Michigan, Ole Miss, LSU, Louisville, Tennessee, Texas, and Georgia. He chose Alabama and played seven games as a freshman.
Leatherwood played right tackle and left tackle but was moved to right guard where he started 15 games as a sophomore and was named Second Team All-SEC. In his junior campaign, he moved to left tackle and was selected First Team All-SEC and First Team All-American.
He won the Outland Trophy his senior year along with First Team All-SEC and First Team All-American honors.
In the 2021 NFL draft, shortly after the Jacksonville Jaguars selected QB Trevor Lawrence first overall, the Las Vegas Raiders took Leatherwood with the 17th overall pick in Round 1. He was the third offensive tackle taken. He signed a four-year contract with $14.39 million fully guaranteed..
From this point on, all the rainbows and unicorns cease for Leatherwood.
In training camp as well as preseason games, he struggled at right tackle. Although an explosive player, he had unpolished technique, and the Raiders drafted him knowing this with the idea their O-Line Coach Tom Cable could fix him. After the season began, they moved him to right guard for the rest of the year.
The next year he was put back at right tackle but was benched in Week 2 temporarily due to poor play but started all 17 games. Apparently, Leatherwood was taught to drag on the three-technique defensive tackle. This meant he would hold his left arm out to keep space in the B game in order to help the right guard. Too many times he would underplay his block and not understand his position relative to where the quarterback should be.
And a lot of times he would put himself in a position to give up the edge. Instead of setting straight ahead to the defensive end, Leatherwood at first would set his sights on the defensive tackle in order to help out his guard. When he finally had the DE in his sights, he would not have enough depth to make up the speed of the defender. All game long he would be in a constant flux of recovery.
He also would punch his defender too low which took away any leverage. With poor punching technique, Leatherwood didn’t have any confidence in his hand usage.
On August 30, 222, the Raiders waived him. He was picked up by the Chicago Bears where he started just four games and played just 32 snaps all year. Chicago let him go the day before the final cutdown this year.
The thought process is if Browns O-Line Coach Bill Callahan can’t fix him, he is just broke.
K Lucas Havrisik
6’-2”, 187 pounds
First off, his last name is pronounced HAVE-ruh-sick. Now that is out of the way, he comes to Cleveland via the Indianapolis Colts.
He grew up in Riverside, California, and went to Norco High School where he played varsity football, volleyball, and soccer where he played as a midfielder. In football, he was his school’s punter and kicker and was ranked the 44th-best player in California. Havrisik was voted as the team’s most valuable player and named All-CIF Southern Section 2 Team plus Big VIII League Special Teams Player of the Year.
Despite all the success at the high school level, as with most kickers, scholarships were not plentiful and he chose Arizona.
There he played sparingly as a freshman and sophomore handling all kickoff duties and was the team’s long-distance kicker including a long of 57 yards. Became the starting kicker his junior year and went 10 of 17 field goals and 37-39 on PATs.
2020 was the COVID year and Arizona only played five games. Havrisik converted 6 of 7 field goals and 9-10 on PATs. In his true senior year, he attempted 14 field goals with nine conversions and went 3-3 on PATs. For his college career, he attempted 53 field goals with 34 conversions with a 64.2% accuracy and hit 73 of 79 extra points for a 93.6% accuracy rating. He played in 39 games and was a Two-Time Honorable Mention All-Pac 12.
He went undrafted in the 2022 NFL draft and then had multiple tryouts with various teams. He finally signed with Indianapolis to compete with veteran and former Brown Chase McLaughlin for the starting job. Instead, he was released but signed to the practice squad and then a reserve/futures contract in January.
Havrisik competed with veteran Matt Gay for Indy’s starting job this training camp, but he was unable to win the position so he currently has zero NFL attempts.
The incredible leg strength is the reason NFL teams kept giving him looks. But he needs to clean it up and get some consistency with his accuracy.
QB P.J. Walker
5’-11”, 216 pounds
After the round of cuts, head coach Kevin Stefanski told the media that the Browns would bring in another quarterback. That guy is Phillip Walker, Jr. His friends call him P.J. It makes sense with the league’s new third quarterback rule.
Rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson has cemented his place as the backup to Deshaun Watson. During the preseason, he impressed the coaches to which Berry traded away who everyone believed would be the backup signalcaller this year in Josh Dobbs. Instead, now Dobbs is in line to become the Arizona Cardinals starting quarterback on opening day.
Walker attended Elizabeth High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey where he was a dual-threat quarterback. He had college offers from Connecticut, Temple, East Carolina, James Madison, Toledo, Rutgers, and UMass. He chose Temple under head coach Matt Rhule.
By Week 6 of this freshman year, Walker was the starting QB. He finished his college career with 830 completions on 1,458 attempts, 10,668 yards, 74 touchdowns, 44 interceptions, a 56.9 completion percentage, and a 129.1 QB rating. He also rushed for 771 yards on 341 carries with nine TDs and a 19.5 yards per rush average.
Walker became Temple’s all-time passing yards leader, all-time QB wins (28), and first-ever conference title in 49 years.
He ran a 4.74 at his Pro Day with a 29.5” vertical leap and 111” in the broad jump. Walker was not drafted in the 2017 NFL draft. He signed with the Colts and was released on the final cutdown and then spent the year on the practice squad. The same thing happened the following two seasons, except in 2019 he was released from the practice squad after only two days.
The XFL was about to kick off and Walker was drafted by the Houston Roughnecks. On a sad note, the Pittsburgh Steelers wanted to sign him but his XFL contract blocked him from joining any other league. After a 5-0-0 start, the XFL canceled the season due to the pandemic. At the time, Walker was the league’s passing yards leader and touchdown passes leader.
This led to interest from the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers. He inked a deal with the Panthers worth up to $1.5 million. Carolina’s head coach just happened to be Rhule, his college coach. In three years, he had seven starts with 228 attempts and 131 completions, five touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and a 57.5% completion ratio. He competed for the starting job with Baker Mayfield and Teddy Bridgewater.
In March of this year, the Chicago Bears signed him with a guarantee of $2 million. He did not have a good training camp and at times was listed as third or fourth-string. He was released despite the guaranteed deal on the final cutdown day August 29. Chicago was hoping Walker would make it through waivers so that he could become their emergency QB3.