10 Shrine Game practice standouts for Browns fans to know

Four days of practice sessions for both the East and West squads are complete here in St. Petersburg for the annual Shrine Game. Over 100 NFL draft prospects worked out in front of scouts from every NFL team.

The Browns were well-represented during the practices at Tropicana Field, including VP of Player Personnel Alonzo Highsmith. Here are 10 players, listed in alphabetical order, who stood out as good fits for the Browns from the practice sessions and prior game tape.

Cortez Broughton, DT, Cincinnati

Broughton first caught my eye when his Bearcats stumped my Ohio Bobcats back in September. He did not stop, bringing his disruptiveness to St. Pete and the East practices. Short-armed but broad-shouldered and powerful, he played this week at 291 pounds and can add 8-10 more. If he does that and doesn’t sacrifice the quickness and ability to snake through gaps, he’s going to be better than incumbent Browns starter Trevon Coley.

Jon Duhart, WR, Old Dominion

The most physical wideout during the week, Duhart uses his 6-2, 215-pound frame nicely to make himself a big red zone target. He’s not quick off the line but can run by DBs if they let him stretch his legs. I did Brett Rypien not see him drop a catchable pass (an issue with the West QBs, notably Easton Stick) all week.

Matthew Gay, PK, Utah

The Browns seem unlikely to draft a kicker, and Greg Joseph has the potential to be the long-term solution. But if the Browns want a change or a more legit competition this offseason, Gay is a good candidate. He nailed 3-of-4 attempts from 57 yards in practice sessions and just missed from 63, showing a big leg and some control of it, too.

Ulysees Gilbert, LB, Akron

Fans of the MAC know what Gilbert can do already. The kinetic inside backer has sideline-to-sideline range and hits with some pop. He delivered a rare big hit in Tuesday’s practice that drew audible oohs and aahs from the scouts in attendance. He has the size and natural nose for the ball to make those plays on Sundays, too.

Terry Godwin, WR, Georgia

Godwin was easily the most impressive skill position player on the East roster. He checks a lot of receiving boxed: great hands, body control, acceleration, toughness. He’s a worthy contender in the middle rounds for the Browns as a slot receiver.

Khalil Hodge, LB, Buffalo

Hodge is an easy guy to find on Bulls game film. Look for the ball and chances are you’ll see No. 4. He racked up over 400 tackles in his final three seasons. Hodge can play inside or outside backer. He weighed in heavier than expected here at 255 but told me he plans on being back in the 237-240 playing range by the NFL Scouting Combine. The added bulk did not appear to slow him much in the East practices.

Ka’dar Hollman, CB, Toledo

A former walk-on, Hollman was probably the most consistent cover man during the practice week. He projects as a slot CB who can shift outside and is comfortable in man or zone coverage. One thing I really liked about Hollman in the West practice sessions: he adapted quickly to how to play each of the receivers based on their style. That’s impressive.

KeeSean Johnson, WR, Fresno State

Trevor Sikkema of The Draft Network called Johnson his favorite prospect of the week, and it’s easy to see why. Johnson is sleek and polished as a route runner. His ability to create space for himself even on short routes stood out. So did his hands and ability to make himself bigger by reaching out and snagging passes that others were letting get more into their pads. Has all the makings of a really good No. 3 WR in the NFL.

Chris Nelson, DT, Texas

Nelson is not much of a pass-rush threat, neither for the Longhorns nor the West squad. He is more of a traditional immovable object of a nose tackle. He is built like a tank and shows that kind of brute power. Nelson was great at getting his hands into the chest of the blocker and blasting his way to the point of attack. He appears to have an NFL future as a reserve interior DT, a spot where the Browns should be looking for help.

Daniel Wise, DT, Kansas

If the Browns are looking for a version of Geno Atkins or Aaron Donald, they would be wise to look at the 283-pound Kansas standout. Wise was a wrecking ball on the defensive interior all week, consistently whipping blockers with a quick first step, strong hands and excellent lower-body strength and drive. That showed on game tape, too. Wise wins my vote for the best player in St. Pete this year.

Freddie Kitchens: ‘it drives me crazy’ fans are happy with 7-8-1

New head coach Freddie Kitchens doesn’t want any parades in Cleveland for results other than a championship. Kitchens believes the bar needs to be higher than being happy over the 7-8-1 Browns finish in 2018.

Coach Kitchens railed against the sense of accomplishment for finishing in the middle of the pack in his introductory press conference.

“7-8-1, it drives me crazy that people are happy with 7-8-1,” Kitchens said animatedly. “It drives me literally crazy. If I was in a different setting, my vocabulary would demonstrate that. That is not acceptable. Nobody here wants that. We all understand that it was an improvement, but under no circumstances is that ever going to be acceptable. We only have one goal here and that is to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.”

Appreciating the improvement but demanding better is the exact right way to treat the 7-8-1 finish and hope that it’s the worst record for the Browns over the next decade instead of the best of the last one.

Antonio Brown’s desire to join 49ers doesn’t matter

Jerry Rice’s claim that Antonio Brown wants to play in San Francisco doesn’t matter. All the tweetsand Instagram posts don’t matter. Where Antonio Brown wants to play matters the least in the ongoing saga of which team he’ll suit up for next season.

It’s vital to note that Brown is under contract with the Steelers through the 2021 season. He is not a free agent this offseason, or the next one, or the next one, and Steelers president Art Rooney II has already ruled out releasing the 30-year-old. That means Brown, barring some kind of unknown no-trade clause in his contract, has no agency in this scenario. He’ll play either for the Steelers or wherever the Steelers trade him.

The 49ers could certainly use the four-time All-Pro. He had a league-high 15 touchdowns last season. San Francisco’s entire receiving corps had 16 combined.

Brown would presumably be a perfect fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, and that would undoubtedly play a factor in the receiver’s interest in joining the 49ers – a team on the rise with an offense that caters to his skill set and no other playmakers of his caliber. He’d be their biggest star despite turning 31 before the season.

The Steelers won’t be eager to do Brown any favors though. This isn’t a scenario where Pittsburgh will work to iron out a deal with a team Brown prefers to join. They’re shipping him to the highest bidder.

This isn’t in Brown’s hands. It isn’t even necessarily in the 49ers’ hands. If general manager John Lynch takes a massive, unforeseen swing and offers the No. 2 overall pick, but the Cardinals offer the No. 1 overall pick – Brown is going to play for Arizona.

All of the tweets from 49ers players and Brown’s favorable responses aren’t even on the Steelers’ radar. They’re paying Rice’s interview on 95.7 The Game in San Francisco no mind.

A solution in which Brown stays in the Steel City isn’t entirely out of the question either. While Rooney told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he didn’t foresee Brown returning, he refused to rule anything out.

“Whether the situation can be reconciled and have him back on the team next year, we’re a long way away from thinking that can happen,” he said. “We’re not closing the door on anything at this point.”

It would make sense that Pittsburgh’s first step would be trying to make amends with the nine-year veteran. Even at 30 he had a very productive year with 104 catches, 1,297 yards and 15 touchdowns in 15 games. A situation where he harmoniously suits up in their uniform next year would be ideal for them.

His outstanding 2018 campaign also ensures there will be a competitive trade market for the seven-time Pro Bowler. Any team with some semblance of draft capital in the next couple years, and even a modicum of cap flexibility will be in the running for Brown. San Francisco won’t be alone in their pursuit.

For the 49ers, a union between them and Brown is a long ways off. An increase in his public desire to join the organization doesn’t change that. If he does eventually suit up in red and gold, it will be because the 49ers worked out what the Steelers felt was the best deal, not because Brown wanted to be there.

 

Rob Gronkowski Rumors: Patriots TE to Weigh Retirement Again After 2019 Playoffs

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will reportedly “weigh retirement” this offseason, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, much as he did prior to the 2018 campaign.

According to that report: “Those who know him well say the season has taken an emotional toll on him. Perhaps strongly considering retiring last year put him in a place where it was difficult to get fired up for this season. Gronkowski hasn’t seemed to be the same effusive personality, and people close to him say everything has been a battle. They wonder how much he loves it.”

Antonio Brown reportedly 100 percent wants to return to the Steelers

NFL Network reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala went on Peter King’s podcast this week and shared some of her particular insight about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ situation from the top down, including Antonio Brown. Kinkhabwala spoke candidly about the changes she feels like has happened within the organization after the death of Dan Rooney and the direction she hears Brown and the team is going with all this drama.

“He 100 percent does not want to go right now,” Kinkhabwala said. “He is not looking to be traded. He does not want to leave.”

This is a fascinating bit of information that contrasts comments by team president Art Rooney II earlier in the week. Rooney indicated it would be hard to envision Brown being on the team when training camp started. But if Brown really feels this way, it is doubtful he has communicated this to the team and that is really the crux of all these problems.

Kinkhabwala also acknowledged the role Ben Roethlisberger might be playing in all this. That includes his weekly radio show, where he feels he can be more candid — often to the detriment of team chemistry.

“I can tell you from multiple people, multiple people in that locker room told me how disruptive and disheartening it was to have Ben Roethlisberger go on the radio weekly and call out some teammate or another,” Kinkhabwala said.

Ultimately Brown and the team still have two months before any decisions have to be made. King pointed out this could be an opportunity for all sides to cool off and let the dust settle on all this ugliness. Kinkhabwala puts a bow on this when she points out how much Brown and Roethlisberger need each other to be successful and neither can be as good absent of each other.

Report: Steve Wilks will interview for Browns defensive coordinator position

With Vance Joseph never making it to the Browns for his interview, the team has now shifted to Steve Wilks as a candidate for defensive coordinator. The former Arizona Cardinals head coach will meet with GM John Dorsey and the Browns about the vacant position, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Wilks, 49, was canned after just one season in Arizona. His Cardinals finished with the worst record in the league. But before his misadventures in Phoenix, Wilks was a widely respected defensive coordinator. Wilks spent six seasons with the Carolina Panthers in various defensive coaching capacities, including coordinator and assistant head coach.

The Browns were forced to shift quickly from Joseph, who was hired by the Cardinals for their DC position. Wilks is expected to interview with the Browns over the weekend.