Tuesday will mark the first mandatory event of the Cleveland Browns 2021 season with minicamp that lasts until Thursday. The past two weeks, the team has held voluntary offseason workouts and practices with a good chunk of the defense and a largely backup contingent of the offense, so Tuesday will be the first time the team is fully together, pending an excused absence of some kind.
First Impressions, Injury Updates
It will be the first time Jadeveon Clowney and Takkarist McKinley will appear in a Browns uniform and the offense's first opportunity to get together in an official capacity as they prepare for 2021.
For Clowney, it will be interesting to see if the Browns are confident enough in his knee recovery to put him out on the field or if they err on the side of caution and hold him out until training camp. McKinley was sidelined with a groin injury last year, but he should be not only healthy but primed and ready to go.
Baker Mayfield and most of the team's receivers spent last week in Austin, Texas at his home working out and spending time together. Outside of Jedrick Wills, this will be the first time the starting offensive line will be in Berea this year.
Odell Beckham has received rave reviews from everyone who sees him running. When Jarvis Landry was asked about Beckham at his charity softball event, "He's even better than he was last year."
If the Browns feel good enough about him to let him practice, that would say quite a bit about the state of his recovery. If he's healthy enough to practice in June, he could be truly 100 percent sooner than later with respect to the season. If the Browns hold him out, it's not a reason to be disappointed, but rather just highlights the challenge of a full recovery from that injury.
Updated COVID-19 Protocols
This minicamp will also be the Browns first foray into having players who are not vaccinated or fully vaccinated go through a separate protocol as players that have. That might have been an understated factor that impacted OTA attendance for teams including the Browns.
When a player who is unvaccinated not only has to test every day, but has to wear a mask in the facility, cannot eat in the cafeteria, workout with teammates or use a number of amenities the team has like their sauna, that may have impacted their decision on when to attend. Their respective places where they work out in away from the team likely has no such requirements.
Now, it's mandatory. Getting a taste for that process might be annoying enough that a player will do most anything to avoid having to do that every day of the season, including use the next month to get vaccinated, which NFL teams wouldn't hate.
It would also be the time where the Browns theoretically have most unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated players this season. The team is hoping that players will get vaccinated in no small part to eliminate the time they have to carve out and account for in addition to potentially having to operate differently in day to day operations.
Minicamp will be the first time they have to test out this new, reduced intake process since last season when the entire team had to do it.
Scope of Practices
On the field, it will be interesting to see if Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski opts to change anything. To this point, they've been practicing at a deliberately slower pace, focusing more on individual instruction and teaching systems. While that may have been his plan all along, there was some part that could have been dictated by player attendance.
The Browns may not be interested in trying to get friskier out at practices in June, keeping their eye on the prize in the fall, but there could be some interesting reasons to ramp up the competition a little.
It's not hugely likely they are going to want to press the players they know they are building their roster and season around, but some of the depth and rookies may get pushed to get a snapshot of where they are in their respective development.
Evaluating Potential Roster Holes
The Browns have cap flexibility and could potentially look to see how good they feel about a few positions that are currently counting on contributions from young players this seas, including rookies.
After the minicamp concludes, the Browns will be off until July 26th when training camp is scheduled to begin, so an accurate evaluation of where they stand could impact their actions the next month.
One spot where this could be important is defensive tackle, where the Browns have a number of young players including a pair of rookies trying to make a case they can help the team this season. The Browns may want to get a sense of what they can get from players like Jordan Elliott, Tommy Togiai and Marvin Wilson, since if those three make the final roster, that will make up 60 percent of the defensive tackle room.
There continues to be talk that the Browns and Sheldon Richardson continue to be in contact and are on good terms since the team released him. Perhaps Richardson simply represents injury insurance until he signs elsewhere, but if the team is concerned it does not have enough on the interior, they might up their offer slightly to get a deal done to reinforce that position, making sure they have the time to get prepared for the season.
Defensive back is another spot where this could matter. Both Steven Nelson and Brian Poole continue to be free agent corner options. The Browns have added a significant amount of talent, both in free agency with the addition of Troy Hill, drafting Greg Newsome and then getting a healthy Greedy Williams.
But if the team is not confident in that group, they might want to get one of those players before training camp starts. giving them a veteran that can come in and start immediately across from Denzel Ward. Safety is a similar situation, although it would likely be looking for veteran depth as opposed to starters. That might be the unlikeliest move given the Browns don't want to pay depth.
In the event the Browns are happy with their roster when they leave minicamp, they will still keep their eyes open on opportunities to improve, but the next month would represent the beginning of contract extension season.
More than anything, minicamp represents a dress rehearsal for training camp in terms of the team's operation while getting a snapshot of the team as it was designed and the status of players coming back from injury, all of which is important.