Browns quick hits: Greg Newsome II built for 'hardest position in football.' No, not QB

Nate Ulrich
Akron Beacon Journal

BEREA — Greg Newsome II is eager to play with “a little more armor,” even if it's only another two or three pounds.

With the Browns trading nickelback Troy Hill to the Los Angeles Rams last month during the NFL Draft, they're hoping Newsome will become their primary slot cornerback after he spent most of his rookie season last year playing on the outside.

“I’m comfortable with it,” Newsome said Wednesday after the second practice of organized team activities and the first one open to media. “I think it’s a benefit towards me. I’ll be able to be around the ball a lot more, so I’m definitely liking the inside. It’s going to be fun. I think I’ll be able to make some more plays, get some sacks, things like that, so I’m definitely embracing that new role.”

It's only May, so plans can change before the Browns open the regular season Sept. 11 on the road against the Carolina Panthers. Yet all signs point to Newsome manning the slot. He explained he intends to play at about 194 or 195 pounds after playing at 192 last year. It's not a big change, but it's a change made because of the heavy traffic he expects to encounter across the middle of the field as a nickelback.

Browns cornerback Greg Newsome II is embracing his role as an inside corner covering slot receivers. [Peter Aiken/Associated Press]

When the Browns deployed two cornerbacks in their first-team base defense, Newsome and Denzel Ward were on the field. In nickel, Greedy Williams entered the action, played on the outside and Newsome moved inside. Later, rookie Martin Emerson Jr. worked on the outside opposite Ward in the nickel with Newsome in the slot.

“You have to be intelligent in order to play that position, so I just think with my body type, a little bit bigger, I’m agile, I’m able to move, I feel like I can guard those smaller receivers,” Newsome said. “So I think I’ll definitely be fine in the nickel.”

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Linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. is an expert on Newsome, a first-round pick (No. 26 overall) in last year's draft. Walker and Newsome bonded years ago because they hail from Northwestern University. Newsome has said he views Walker like an older brother.

“Greg's versatility is one of the No. 1 things that I saw when he was at Northwestern,” Walker said. “Obviously, I wasn't there with him, but as an alumni you're watching the tape and you're watching him play, and I'm like, 'Who is this kid being able to cover a No. 1 receiver, being able to stop the run in the Big Ten, tackle some good ballcarriers?

“As a nickel, you have to be able to do that. You've got to be able to cover really quick slot receivers, sometimes the best receiver on the other team. He can also move outside and do that and can [help] in the run and tackle. That nickel position — I think that's the hardest position in football by the way — for him to be able to do that and command it in year two, it wouldn't be a surprise to me. I know he can do it.”

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Newsome played some nickel last season, and his snap count there went up during the final stretch. The coaching staff obviously liked what it saw, and Newsome said he'll continue to pick the brain of Hill, who has become a good friend.

“Intelligence is a premium when you're [in the slot] because you have to be able to fit the runs, you have to be able to pressure, play man and play zone,” Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. “He's a smart player. He's physically built to play inside or outside. He's somebody who we will continue to work in there and really among a bunch of different guys who will work in there.”

Stefanski's point about the Browns experimenting with other players in the slot is worth noting, but Newsome looks like Plan A.

No matter what, Newsome figures to be a key piece of the defense for the foreseeable future with Ward, who signed a five-year, $100.5 million contract extension last month.

“I make some jokes like, 'You owe me a car or something,' but he's obviously not going to do that,” Newsome said of Ward. “I was super excited for him. As soon as I [saw the news about the extension], I called him right away. He didn't answer right away. He called me back five seconds later [with] just a big smile on his face.

“That's my brother. I'm super excited for him, and now we'll be together long term hopefully. That's very exciting. He's a great player. I think he's the best in the league right now. Being able to play alongside him and just learning from him for the next four or five years, hopefully the next 10 years, 12 years would be amazing.”

Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joel Bitonio works against defensive end Myles Garrett during NFL football training camp, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018, in Berea, Ohio. (AP Photo/Ken Blaze) ORG XMIT: OHKB126

Myles Garrett, Joel Bitonio among Cleveland Browns players not at OTAs

OTA practices are voluntary, meaning players are not contractually obligated to report to Browns headquarters until mandatory minicamp June 14-16.

The Browns had excellent attendance Wednesday, though there were a few players missing. The most notable ones were All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett, All-Pro left guard Joel Bitonio, right tackle Jack Conklin, who's coming off a major knee injury, and franchise-tagged tight end David Njoku, whose contract extension negotiations with the club are ongoing.

“That's kind of filed under this is voluntary,” Stefanski said. “We've never intimated that it is anything but voluntary. The guys who are here obviously get good work out here with the coaches, but that's how we'll operate.”

Rookie receiver Mike Woods and undrafted rookie tight end Zaire Mitchell-Paden worked on the side of the field due to injury.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield before an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Nick Cammett)

Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb is confident quarterback Baker Mayfield will land on his feet

Quarterback Baker Mayfield isn't attending OTAs, and he has never been expected to do so since the Browns traded in March for his replacement, Deshaun Watson.

Mayfield is waiting to be traded, but if he's still on the roster when mandatory minicamp arrives, he intends to show up to avoid fines or potential contractual issues with the $18.858 million guaranteed he's owed in 2022. The Browns can excuse him from mandatory minicamp, but they're not allowed to tell him he can't report.

Pro Bowl running back Nick Chubb has kept in touch with Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in 2018.

“We’ve always been close. That won’t change at all,” Chubb said. “He’ll still be one of my best friends. He’s a great person overall, so those things won’t change at all.

“I know Baker. His attitude, his intensity, wherever he goes, it’ll be on. He’ll be ready.”

Cleveland Browns center Nick Harris snaps the ball to quarterback Deshaun Watson during OTA practice on Wednesday, May 25, 2022 in Berea.

Cleveland Browns lineup notes

It's not a surprise, but Nick Harris practiced as the first-team center with Ethan Pocic working with the second unit. Chris Hubbard filled Conklin's spot at right tackle, and Blake Hance worked at Bitonio's left guard position. 

On defense, Chase Winovich filled Garrett's spot at right end opposite Jadeveon Clowney, and Taven Bryan and Jordan Elliott were the first-string tackles. Jacob Phillips, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Sione Takitaki were the top linebackers, though Anthony Walker Jr. substituted for Phillips at middle linebacker in a subsequent 11-on-11 period.

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com.