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Scouting the Browns

A look at what the Steelers will be up against on Sunday afternoon at the Cleveland Browns:


GETTING DEFENSIVE:** The Browns' new defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, arrived with a reputation for aggressiveness, and with a Super Bowl championship (XLIV with New Orleans) and an additional Super Bowl appearance (XXXIV with Tennessee) on his resume. The players have apparently bought in already. Cleveland demonstrated an attitude on defense this preseason, a willingness to get after the quarterback, play fast and hit hard (and low). The Browns are bringing it from a physical standpoint, even on the back end.

Linebackers Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert are three-down players who can run. Kirksey was third in the NFL with 143 tackles in 2016. Linebacker Jamie Collins is a versatile play-maker who might regularly rush from the edge in passing situations in the wake of the high-ankle sprain first-overall pick Myles Garrett suffered in practice on Wednesday.

Safety Jabrill Peppers, one of Cleveland's three first-round selections in 2017, has shown up as advertised. Peppers demonstrated range, physicality and an ability to make plays on the ball in August.

For what it's worth, Cleveland allowed one defensive touchdown in the preseason (none in its last 12 quarters).


MEET THE NEW BOSS:** Second-round pick DeShone Kizer is poised to become the 27th different starting quarterback since the Browns' franchise resurrection in 1999, and the fifth in the last five season-opening games. He brings a physical skill set and a steadfast belief in his arm, which is strong enough to make all the throws. Kizer wasn't afraid to try to make a play with his arm or to take a hit while running with the ball in the preseason. He'll take some shots deep.

The Browns finished fourth in the NFL with a 4.89-yard average per carry in 2016 and they rushed for a season-high 231 yards in the season finale on Jan. 1 against the Steelers. Then they invested in center JC Tretter (Green Bay) and right guard Kevin Zeitler (Cincinnati) in unrestricted free agency, and signed guard Joel Bitonio to a contract extension. An anticipated wrinkle this season might be the presence of running backs Isaiah Crowell (a team-leading 952 yards rushing last season) and Duke Johnson (an accomplished receiver) in the same backfield. Crowell had the longest run in the NFL last season, an 85-yard touchdown scamper on Sept. 18 against Baltimore.

In addition to throwing it deep and running, Browns head coach Hue Jackson's offenses often include curve balls in terms of obscure formations and against-the-grain play-calls. Jackson, a former offensive coordinator in Cincinnati and head coach in Oakland, isn't gimmick-driven, necessarily, but the Steelers will still need to be on their toes defensively.

Tight end David Njoku, the third of Cleveland's three first-round picks, is third on the depth chart at the position. Starter Randall Telfer is a blocker. Backup Seth DeValve is athletic and can catch.

SPECIAL EDITION: Seventh-round pick Zane Gonzalez is the FBS all-time leader in field goals (96) and points by a kicker (494). Punter Britton Colquitt had a Browns' record 40.3 net average last season. Cleveland is second in the NFL in punt return average (10.6), fourth in opponents' kickoff return average (21.7) and tied for eighth in punt returns for a touchdown (four) since the arrival of special teams coordinator Chris Tabor in 2011. Schobert led the Browns in special teams tackles (14) in 2016.


THE REVOLVING DOOR:** The Browns listed 24 players on their active roster at the outset of this week who hadn't been with the team last season. And that was before they released safety Calvin Prior III on Thursday, reportedly for getting into a fight with a teammate. Pryor had been acquired in a trade on June 1.

Cleveland will potentially have seven players starting on offense and five on defense who weren't starting when the Browns visited Heinz Field on Jan. 1.

This isn't a roster that's been beaten down by the Browns having sustained double-digit losses in eight of the last nine seasons (including a 4-28 record over the last two seasons). But continuity and consistency remain mere concepts in Cleveland.

STAT THAT MATTERS: Offensive tackle Joe Thomas has played all 9,934 offensive snaps since the Browns selected him on the first round (third overall) in 2007.

HE SAID IT: "It's still crazy to me, still crazy to be here. I'm excited because I have Ben (Roethlisberger) on my team, I have Antonio Brown on my team, Martavis Bryant. We have guys out here. It feels cool going into battle with them." _ Steelers cornerback Joe Haden, who played for Browns teams that went 29-83 during his seven-season tenure in Cleveland (2010-16).

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