DraftBrowns.com Staff Writer: Justin Higdon
The Cleveland Browns have completed mandatory minicamps and organized team activities, and will regroup for training camp on July 25th. Players have around six weeks to rest up, nurse injuries and brush up on the playbook. The names haven’t changed much since early May, but there have been a few interesting developments. Here is a look at the current offensive personnel, and who seems poised to earn a spot on the final 53-man roster.
Quarterbacks: Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer
Heading into training camp, the starting gig is Weeden’s to lose. Head Coach Rob Chudzinski won’t rule anything out, but the second-year passer took all of the first-team reps in minicamp. Hoyer was signed in mid-May, and the Browns relieved last year’s third-stringer Thaddeus Lewis of his duties shortly thereafter. He has since been claimed by the Detroit Lions. Hoyer now appears poised to compete with Jason Campbell for the backup quarterback job. General Manager Michael Lombardi has always been a fan of Hoyer, and the coaches seem pleasantly surprised by his play early on. It’s conceivable that Cleveland could cut the loser of this battle loose; but both players have team-friendly contracts, and Chudzinski and Norv Turner have a tendency to keep three quarterbacks on the roster. As things stand now, all three QBs are likely to make the final, 53-man roster.
Projection: Weeden, Campbell, Hoyer
Running Backs: Trent Richardson, Montario Hardesty, Dion Lewis, Brandon Jackson, Miguel Maysonet
Richardson sat out the last round of minicamp to rest a shin injury, though he and the coaches indicated that the ailment would not have kept him out of game action. This followed early, doomsday-style reports that the Browns were worried that Richardson could develop a stress fracture, and that a Kevin Ware-type nightmare was the “worst case scenario.” Camp kicks off in fewer than six weeks, and Richardson says he’ll be ready to go by then.
Chudzinski and Turner tend to keep five backs on their teams. This could mean keeping three running backs and two fullback-types, or keeping four running backs and a single fullback. With Richardson resting, Hardesty took first-team reps during minicamp. Along the way, he managed to impress Chudzinski with improved pass-catching skills. Hardesty heads into training camp as the primary backup, and his roster spot appears safe for now.
Lewis, acquired in a trade earlier in the offseason, has value as a receiver and potential kick return man. He’s a favorite to earn one of the remaining spots. The Browns signed Maysonet off waivers after fellow undrafted rookies Jamaine Cook and Robbie Rouse had been let go, and Jackson was re-signed as insurance before the team knew the extent of Richardson’s injury. If the coaches do keep a fourth running back, Jackson and Maysonet could be duking it out for the final spot, in which case special teams contributions may become the deciding factor.
Projection: Richardson, Hardesty, Lewis
Fullbacks: Chris Ogbonnaya, Owen Marecic
Ogbonnaya is listed as a running back on the team’s official roster, but he noted in an interview with Dawg Pound Central Radio that he has been taking reps at fullback. Indeed, ESPN’s Tony Grossi even referred to Ogbonnaya’s work as a lead blocker as “a short yardage revelation.” Meanwhile, Marecic is clearly on the roster bubble. After dropping all four of the passes thrown his way in 2012, recent reports suggest he will likely be cut unless he has a stellar training camp. The coaches value pass catching heavily for all of their backs. They’ve rarely kept a pure blocking fullback. Ogbonnaya is superior to Marecic as a runner and receiver, so if the former proves to be an adequate blocker he will easily win the job. However, Marecic will get his opportunities to make the team, especially if he can contribute on special teams. Plus, with Richardson handling the bulk of the carries, keeping four pure running backs seems like overkill.
Projection: Ogbonnaya, Marecic
Wide Receivers: Josh Gordon, Greg Little, Devone Bess, David Nelson, Travis Benjamin, Josh Cooper, Jordan Norwood, Tori Gurley, Dominique Croom, Mike Edwards, Keenan Davis, Cordell Roberson
Receiver is a crowded position group, occupying 12 slots on the 90-man roster. Gordon is a shoe-in to make the team, though his two-game ban to start the season may create an opportunity for someone who would otherwise miss the cut. Little and Bess will be the top two receivers until Gordon returns. The coaching staff has praised Bess for his work ethic and hands, and Little has expressed excitement about his role in the new offense. Nelson’s offseason work has been limited due to his recovery from a 2012 ACL tear, but he expects to be ready by the time training camp rolls around. A healthy Nelson to start the season would lessen the impact of Gordon’s suspension. Benjamin has impressed coaches and teammates with his route running, speed, and hands. He figures to handle at least a share of punt and kick return duties as well.
Chudzinski and Turner typically keep six receivers on the 53-man roster, but they may go with five while Gordon sits. In any event, second-year man Josh Cooper has been making his case for a roster spot by finding openings in coverage and displaying sure hands in the early going. Norwood has show glimpses of being a contributor, but he has been hampered by injuries. After missing most of last season with a bum foot, Norwood was slowed by a hamstring issue in minicamp. If healthy he should compete with Cooper, or possibly hang on until Gordon returns. Gurley was added to the team in May, and his size (6’4” 230 pounds) is certainly intriguing. After going undrafted in 2011, he has bounced around between a number of organizations without ever appearing in a regular season game. Croom, Edwards, Davis and Roberson are all undrafted rookies with long odds to make the team. Another rookie, Perez Ashford, was recently waiver.
Projection: Gordon (susp.), Little, Bess, Nelson, Benjamin, Cooper, Norwood
Tight Ends: Jordan Cameron, Gary Barnidge, Kellen Davis, Brad Smelley, Dan Gronkowski, Travis Tannahill
Cameron was hampered by a couple of muscle pulls during minicamp, but the Browns expect him to be healthy for training camp. He is being counted on to be the team’s primary option at tight end. Chudzinski is familiar with Barnidge from their time together in Carolina. Despite limited use as a receiver during his career, Barnidge has shown impressive pass catching ability in the early going. Davis has a reputation for shaky hands, but the team believes he has value in short yardage situations. Smelley caught one pass for the Browns a year ago, but receiving is the strength of his game. At 6’2” 235 pounds, he lacks ideal size for a tight end, and is better suited to an H-back role. Smelley figures to get some work in at fullback once camp starts; and if he can prove to be an adequate lead blocker, he has a chance to unseat Marecic.
As much as Chudzinski and Turner are associated with the tight end position, they don’t typically keep more than three on a final roster. With that in mind, Gronkowski – who has hung around for a couple of seasons, but didn’t see any game action last year – and undrafted rookie Tannahill have to be considered extreme long shots to make the final roster.
Projection: Cameron, Barnidge, Davis
Offensive Line: Joe Thomas, Mitchell Schwartz, Alex Mack, John Greco, Jason Pinkston, Shawn Lauvao, Garrett Gilkey, Rashad Butler, Ryan Miller, Oniel Cousins, Dominic Alford, Aaron Adams, Braxston Cave, Chris Faulk, Caylin Hauptmann, Jarrod Shaw, Martin Wallace
Thomas at left tackle, Schwartz at right and Mack at center are entrenched as starters. Greco, Pinkston and Lauvao are in a three-man competition to fill the two guard slots. Greco was the team’s best guard last season, and received a nod from ProFootballFocus.com earlier this spring. Pinkston has recovered from the blood clots that cut his 2012 season short, and took some first team reps during the June minicamp. There has been some speculation that Lauvao could be cut if he fails to secure a starting job. However, he has shown some potential (expertly illustrated right here) during the early stages of his career. It may be “put up or shut up” time as he enters the final year of his rookie contract, but he seems to hold enough value to at least keep around as a backup.
The coaches favor keeping eight to nine offensive linemen on the final roster, and 17 are currently with the team. Gilkey was selected in the most recent draft, which should give him a leg up in the competition. He has experience playing tackle and guard, but the team sees him eventually settling inside. Miller also has the versatility to play both tackle and guard. That flexibility could be seen as an advantage over other linemen on the roster.
Faulk is an intriguing player, who could develop into a starter or valuable swing tackle, but he has still been slowed by the knee injury that abruptly ended his final college season. If Faulk is healthy, he will compete with veterans Cousins and Butler for a backup role. Cave is still the only true backup center on the roster, but Mack’s durability and Greco’s ability to fill in at center will likely keep the undrafted rookie off the final roster. Young veterans Alford and Shaw, and undrafted rookies Adams, Hauptmann and Wallace face long odds to make the team.
Projection: Thomas, Schwartz, Mack, Greco, Pinkston, Lauvao, Gilkey, Miller
(Coming soon: the Defense)