CLEVELAND, Ohio – In this week’s Hey, Mary Kay! I answer questions about the Browns defense, Odell Beckham Jr., and more.
Hey Mary Kay: We’re about a week away from the Browns’ first game against the best team in the AFC. Do you think Joe Woods has had enough time to install his defense with all these new players? Do you think leadership and talent can over come the short time these players have been together? Thank you Mary Kay! #Itsthefinalcountdown — Jeff Lerner, Avon, Ohio
Hey, Jeff: I do think the Browns have had enough time to prepare for the Chiefs despite all of the nagging injuries on defense that prevented them from practicing together much. I think the unit, which will have eight or nine new starters, has enough experienced players and leaders that they’ll be OK.
The defensive line looks amazing, and I think Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will make big plays from the weakside linebacker spot. Safety John Johnson III has been tremendous, and he’ll help pull the secondary together. It helped that Greedy Williams, Grant Delpit and Sione Takitaki all returned to practice on Thursday before the mandatory three-day break. The defense is as healthy as it’s been since the start of camp, and I think it will be great in KC. There’s something for everyone: speed, power, explosiveness, coverage prowess, and takeaway ability. I think Browns fans are going to love the new Dawgs.
Hey, Mary Kay: How much volume is Odell Beckham Jr. expected to have vs the Chiefs? — Wil Talbott, Bay Village, Ohio
Hey Wil: Beckham looks really healthy and strong in practice, and I would expect him to not only start against the Chiefs, but also play a significant amount. The Browns will keep a close eye on him, and will rely on him to report any fatigue or discomfort coming off the torn ACL, but there are currently no signs that he’ll have any issues. It will be the first time he’s experienced any contact since the tearing the ACL Oct. 25, but once he gets that first tackle out of the way, he’ll settle in and be his old, dangerous self.
It really is remarkable that he looks this good less only months out of surgery in November. He felt he could’ve made the difference in the playoff game in January, and he has a lot to prove. What’s more, he and Baker Mayfield have worked extremely hard to get on the same page, and I think they’ll surprise some people.
Hey, Mary Kay! On paper, the Browns look top-tier. GM Andrew Berry rocked free agency and the draft, and Kevin Stefanski is coming off of a Coach-of-the-Year season. Having been a Browns fan since the ‘70s, though, I still have that uneasiness in the pit of my stomach. “But, we’re solid,” I tell myself, “with depth at nearly every position!” The only thing I can see derailing us is COVID. How vaccinated is the team? Is there a possibility of losing an entire position group for a game again? — Carrie Kinnison, Clarkdale, Arizona
Hey, Carrie: The Browns not only look good on paper, they also look great in person. It’s the best roster I’ve covered since the early 1990s from top to bottom. The only area of concern is kicker, but the Browns are willing to give Chase McLaughlin a chance. It didn’t help that he missed an extra point in the final preseason game. That was Cody Parker’s downfall last season. The Browns can’t be great everywhere and then have a kicker lose the game for them. But hopefully for them, McLaughlin will be up to the task.
About 90% of the Browns players are vaccinated, but COVID-19 can still be an issue this season. They just have to hope that their key players don’t miss games. This team is built to win big, and I predict a 12-5 record. In fact, they might even surprise some folks and upset KC in the opener.
Hey, Mary Kay: Will Baker Mayfield be an All-Pro QB this season? — Tim Smith, Mogodore, Ohio
Hey, Tim: Mayfield certainly has all of the tools and all of the talent around him to be an All-Pro quarterback, but it’s incredibly difficult to earn the distinction. When Patrick Mahomes earns only second-team All-Pro like he did last year, you know how tough it is to achieve. Aaron Rodgers was first-team last season, and Mahomes and Josh Allen were tied for second-team honors. I think Mayfield will have tremendous stats this season and he’ll win a lot of games, so he should be in the running. But he’ll have to be the best of the best to earn All-Pro accolades, and the competition is fierce.
Hey Mary Kay: Wouldn’t it be a nightmare for opposing defenses if the Browns would run Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt together on most plays? Why don’t they do that? Thanks! — Hugh McKay, Cleveland, Ohio
Hey, Hugh: I do think the Browns should play Chubb and Hunt together more often, but not on every play. They have so many weapons, they’ll be able to hurt defenses in multiple ways. I think they’ll use three wide receivers more often because they have the personnel to do it, but they won’t be locked into any one dominant personnel grouping. They’ll be multiple, and that will be their identity: the ability to attack a defense in so many ways.
They will have some common denominators such as play-action, motion and bootlegs, but they’ll cross up defenses with dozens of different formations and options out of those groupings. They will continue to blur the lines between the run and the pass to keep the defense guessing as long as possible. I think they’ll also give Mayfield more jurisdiction at the line of scrimmage, and change up the tempo more. They have an embarrassment of riches, and it really will be pick-your-poison for Mayfield this year.
Hey, Mary Kay: Is there a possibility that the Browns will move on from Baker Mayfield if he’s not able to lead this team to the playoffs? Since they seem reluctant to offer him a new deal, they might be thinking of the possibility that the upcoming season may not meet expectations and are prepared to cut ties with the quarterback. — Joe Poudel, Beachwood, Ohio
Hey, Joe: I don’t think that’s in their mental paradigm at all. I think they believe that Mayfield can win multiple Super Bowls for them and they’re prepared to pay him accordingly. I just think that it’s wise for everyone involved to let Mayfield play into the second quarter of this season before they sign him to an extension.
That way, he can prove that he deserves to be in the ballpark of Allen ($43 million a year) and Lamar Jackson, who will probably come in right around there. They currently have stronger resumes than him, and becoming one of the hottest quarterbacks in the NFL in the first half — like he was in the second half of last season — would go a long way towards bolstering his position. The Browns are also in no hurry because they have Mayfield under contract through 2022.
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