Cleveland Browns assistant hints at one tight end being left off the roster

Nov 14, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns tight end Stephen Carlson (89) catches a touchdown over the defense of Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Mark Barron (26) during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 14, 2019; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns tight end Stephen Carlson (89) catches a touchdown over the defense of Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Mark Barron (26) during the fourth quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports /

The Cleveland Browns went with four tight ends last season but tight ends coach Drew Petzing talked about only keeping three at a recent presser.

The Cleveland Browns carried four tight ends last season to support the Stefanski/Van Pelt run-first, tight-end-heavy offense, but comments from tight ends coach Drew Petzing in a press conference hint that this season the Browns will carry only three tight ends.

Well, that’s awesome, coach, except that the Browns have kept four tight ends for most of the past two years.

The three number ones that coach Petzing was speaking of are presumably Austin Hooper, the two-time Pro Bowler from Stanford; former first-round draft pick and ex-Miami Hurricane David Njoku; and last year’s fourth-round pick, Harrison Bryant from the Florida Atlantic Owls.

"“We’re almost in a room with three ones, and I think I’ve said that before, when you have three guys with that level of talent, and they all do different things well,  it’s our job as coaches to put in a position where they’re able to go out and be a part of our success and I think they were last year and they’ll certainly continue to be this year.” — Browns tight end coach Drew Petzing, 31 July 2021 press conference."

Stephen Carlson played in 16 games last season, accumulating 426 snaps, 336 of which were on special teams, but he did get in on some run blocking schemes. In fact, he started two games for the Browns. Weirdly, Carlson came to the Browns from Princeton University, and he succeeded Seth DeValve, another Princeton tight end. Princeton must be an Ivy League tight end factory.

We really have not seen enough of Carlson to complete an evaluation. He might be a very good receiving tight end. He was a wide receiver at Princeton and had 935 receiving yards as a senior after catching only two passes as a junior. That’s a positive trend.

In addition, the Browns have Connor Davis in camp, who has experience at the Alliance of American Football, the XFL, and at the practice squad level of the NFL. We kind of like six-foot-eight and 271 pounds for the blocking tight end slot, and we might be willing to throw a jump ball in the end zone to this fellow.

The buzz on Davis is that he has made significant gains in fitness and athleticism since his college days and has improved on many of his Combine results. Enhanced athleticism plus additional experience make him a factor, or at least he should be.

Jordan Franks has played for the Cincinnati Bengals and has also had time with the Eagles practice squad. He has two career receptions for 37 yards. This is his fourth year in the league. Players generally improve from year one to year four, so by now, he should be close to a finished product. Maybe the Browns have someone here who can play.

It is hard to hear the questions in the press conference, but as far as this reporter can tell, there were zero mentions of any other tight end in camp, only the three big names with the big paychecks.

Cleveland has plenty of qualified candidates at wide receiver and running back, so by shrinking the inventory of tight ends from four to three, they would have no problem filling the roster space with a valuable player.

It was still tacky of coach Petzing to not at least mention that there are other tight ends in camp with at least some chance to make the team.

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Carlson should be a no-brainer to play in the NFL this season, if not for the Browns, then someone else. There has been very little negative criticism of his play during his two seasons with the Browns. He’s a strong blocking tight end and he has been a productive tackler on special teams with nine tackles last season. In short, he is a good player.

If he clears waivers, the Browns could potentially sign him to their practice squad. However, his chances of advancing his career are better with a different team.

Similarly, Davis and Franks are very viable. There are limits to how many veterans can be kept on the practice squad, but even if they are on some other team’s roster, as long as they are not protected, the Browns have a good chance to snatch them back if they need them during the season.

At least they would be familiar with the Browns offense if they were brought back later in the year.

If the Browns really want to commit to the two tight-end concept, having four tight ends is not a bad idea. Conversely, when the base formation is two tight ends and two wide receivers, it does not automatically follow that the team needs three tight ends and six wide receivers. That’s a decent mix for a run-and-shoot offense.

This amateur’s view of coach Petzing’s press conference is that the coach probably knows his stuff football-wise, but he seemed a little nervous with the press. He should have said something to acknowledge the other tight ends in camp but didn’t because he was too honest.

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The concern is that there may be some real talent lurking in the back of the tight end room that the Browns might be overlooking.