Browns Player Development Paying Dividends
The Cleveland Browns have gotten better in recent weeks in no small part to improvement from players like Baker Mayfield, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham that are starting to click at a high level. Adding Kareem Hunt into the mix has been a catalyst for an uptick in the team's play.
The Browns are also starting to get small contributions from players they have been developing for most of this season, some dating back to rookie minicamps. While they won't get the headlines, these players are impacting games, which is a credit to them for capitalizing on the opportunity as well as the front office for adding them and the coaching staff in guiding their development.
Coming into the season, the Browns didn't really have a good answer for a lead blocker. Pharaoh Brown did his best and had a productive game against the Baltimore Ravens, but it's just difficult for someone that long and high cut to get low enough and block on the move consistently.
The team brought in Stephen Carlson, a wide receiver growing into a tight end as an undrafted free agent and he looked lost much of the preseason. In the past two weeks, Carlson has made an impressive touchdown reception against the Pittsburgh Steelers and did a nice job operating as a lead blocker as an H-back against the Miami Dolphins. He's got the necessary flexibility to be able to get low to take on blocks effectively and contribute as a receiver.
It's a small sample size but if that's a preview of things to come, the Browns might not only have someone they can keep at the position for the rest of this season, but potentially for next year as well.
Sione Takitaki was drafted in the third round and dealt with a setback during preseason in the form of a hamstring injury. He's become a mainstay on special teams and made the tackle to snuff out the fake punt against the Dolphins.
Beyond that, partly because of his development, but also due to holes generated by suspensions and injuries, Takitaki is starting to see more play on defense. He isn't playing a ton of snaps there, but when he's out there, it tends to be positive.
The Browns have very high hopes for Takitaki overall and he's getting more opportunities to show what they see in him. He is a powerful player that can make a mess in the middle of the line of scrimmage or make an impact tackle. It stands to reason he's only going to get more opportunities the balance of the season and could be a factor in how the Browns defend Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens offense in their second matchup.
Wyatt Teller was a player the Browns acquired right as the season got started to bolster their offensive line. He's been starting at right guard for a month now and his run blocking still isn't where it needs to be, but he's an effective pass protector. The fact Teller tends to hold his ground well is giving Mayfield more of the pocket he was accustomed to last year, where he has the space to step up to avoid edge rushers while still having enough room to make throws.
J.T. Hassell was elevated to the active roster for the Dolphins game. He was able to make a pair of tackles on special teams and help that unit in the wake of losing defensive backs like Morgan Burnett to injury. Hassell has been with the Browns since after the draft, signing as an undrafted free agent, making the transition from collegiate linebacker to NFL safety.
That process is still ongoing, but one area where he excelled in college was special teams coverage units. His speed and tenacity translated as he was able to get down the field for a couple tackles on what has been a strong set of coverage units under Mike Priefer.
This is important to keeping a team effective against the attrition that comes with the sport due to injuries, but they are also finding ways to improve as the year progresses. That's an organizational success that starts with the front office and John Dorsey. One endearing quality with Freddie Kitchens is he's not afraid to put players in on offense he believes can help him and that's been the case in the two years he's been with the team.
The rest of his coaching staff warrants credit for guiding the development of these players. There are still other players the team has that could offer contributions down the road be it this year or in coming seasons like rookies Sheldrick Redwine and Drew Forbes. This type of development is critical to the team's viability and success. These contributions could be the difference in winning and losing in one or more of the remaining five games of the season.