Cleveland Browns training camp storylines: Team building, Deshaun Watson and Jim Schwartz

BEREA — The start of training camp for the Browns is a week earlier than usual. They’re hoping that means the end of their season will get pushed back later than it usually has been.

Whether or not that happens, that the Browns become a playoff team in the loaded AFC, isn’t just going to hinge on the six weeks they’re in camp. There are plenty of circumstances that can alter that trajectory that even a perfect camp can’t prevent.

That doesn’t mean the foundation for a playoff season isn’t going to be established over the next month-plus. That started in earnest on Wednesday when the team’s rookies and the quarterbacks reported to Berea, and will accelerate on Saturday when the Browns hold their first full-squad practice at The Greenbrier in West Virginia.

By the time the final camp practice is held on Aug. 24, a lot should be known about this year’s Browns team. That includes more context to the storylines that surround this team as it gets underway.

Here’s a look at a few of the big storylines going into training camp:

Kevin Stefanski’s bet that going away brings Cleveland Browns closer together

Outside of joint practices at another team’s camp, the Browns haven’t left Berea for training camp since the days of training at Lakeland Community College in 1991. That’s going to change this week when they fly to southeast West Virginia to spend nine days — eight practices — at The Greenbrier Resort.

The trip is the brainchild of coach Kevin Stefanski, who decided this was the way he wanted to use the extra week of camp the team had because of its participation in the Hall of Fame Game. Specifically, he wanted to do this in order to try to jump-start better team chemistry on a roster that hasn’t always felt like it was on the same page during his first three-plus seasons.

It’s not the only time this Browns team will be forced to spend substantial time away from home together. Not even the only time in training camp, either.

The Browns will be in Philadelphia Aug. 13-17 for two joint practices and a preseason game with the Eagles. There’s also the almost-certain week they’ll spend in Los Angeles between their Nov. 26 game at the Denver Broncos and their Dec. 3 game at the Rams.

If the chemistry experiment works, it will seem like a wise plan. If it doesn’t, it will seem like a Hail Mary pass by a coach trying to hold onto his job.

Cleveland Browns’ chance to stand up to the NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles

Cleveland Browns guard Joel Bitonio chats with Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce prior to the start of their joint practice at the Cleveland Browns training facility in Berea last year.

The Browns have done joint practices with another team in four of the last five years, the 2020 COVID season the lone exception. The last two came in Berea, with the New York Giants coming in in 2021 and the Eagles doing the same last year.

Those two joint practices with Philadelphia were eye-opening previews of some of the struggles the Browns had last season. Mostly notably, against the best offensive and defensive lines in the NFC, if not the entire NFL, they found themselves consistently pushed around and bullied by the Eagles.

Now, on Aug. 14-15, the Browns will get a chance to prove just how much they’ve allegedly improved when they hold two more joint practices at the Eagles’ training complex. Both teams will have some different looks to their defensive lines due to offseason comings and goings, but that doesn’t change the importance the Browns in particular are placing on their performance those two days.

A good showing in Philadelphia would be the best possible preseason example of the potential for a playoff push by the Browns. A showing along the lines of last season, where it’s evident the Eagles are significantly superior, could be the canary in the coal mind to trouble ahead.

Was Deshaun Watson‘s offseason a sign of things to come or fool’s gold?

Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson takes part in drills June 6 in Berea.

Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson takes part in drills June 6 in Berea.

This is, personnel-wise, the biggest storyline for the Browns. It’s been that way since they left Pittsburgh in January after the 2022 season finale.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson, in his six starts last year after his 11-game suspension, looked like a quarterback who had accumulated 700 days’ worth of rust. There was a certainly an expectation that could be the case.

Watson’s offseason showing provided a glimmer of promise that he was at least trending in the right direction. It may not portend to a season like his 2019 or 2020 Pro Bowl seasons with the Houston Texans, but it was certainly a good step forward.

It’s pretty simple for the Browns that either Watson gets back to playing like one of the league’s elite quarterbacks or a whole lot of people may be looking for new jobs after this season. Training camp is going to provide another piece of evidence one way or the other.

How does defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz deploy his defense?

Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz talks with players during practice May 31 in Berea.

Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz talks with players during practice May 31 in Berea.

The offseason program, at least the open OTAs and minicamp practices, were a chance to get a sneak peek at new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s scheme. It was also a chance to get a glimpse at some possible ways he’s going to mix and match much of his personnel.

Schwartz, though, was the first to dismiss everything that was done in May and early June as little in the way of answers to any big questions. He talked openly about the lack of contact in practice preventing him from getting any kind of read on what he really has in specific players and combinations.

That won’t be the case by the time training camp concludes. Whether or not a Myles Garrett or a Denzel Ward plays much in the four preseason games, there’s going to be six weeks’ worth of practice reps to provide much better answers to any questions about what rotations and combinations Schwartz is starting to favor.

Who becomes the talk of Cleveland Browns training camp?

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) celebrates after scoring a touchdown on a 76-yard punt return against Texans in Houston on Dec. 4, 2022.

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (11) celebrates after scoring a touchdown on a 76-yard punt return against Texans in Houston on Dec. 4, 2022.

Every training camp has that one or two players whose performances simply leave people unable to avoid talking about them. Usually it’s a rookie who’s getting his first taste of the NFL, the way Martin Emerson Jr. or Cade York became regular topics of conversation a year ago.

This year, with the number of significant contributors the Browns brought in during the offseason through various means, there are a lot of potential candidates to be the toast of the training camp. Some of them — Elijah Moore, Marquise Goodwin and Juan Thornhill — already put themselves on observers’ radars because of their offseason workouts.

Want a couple of players whose names could be on the tip of everyone’s tongue by late August? Try Donovan Peoples-Jones on offense and Grant Delpit on defense.

Those two players are in the final years of their rookie contracts. Both finished 2022 strong, were solid in the OTAs and minicamp and seem poised to do even more with the season fast approaching.

Chris Easterling can be reached at Read more about the Browns at Follow him on Twitter at @ceasterlingABJ.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Deshaun Watson, team-building trips highlight Browns camp storylines

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