Cleveland Browns Key Training Camp Position Battles
As the Browns prepare for their third preseason game, against Philadelphia in Cleveland next Friday, a number of the young and hungry are looking to make their mark in the eyes of the coaches and perhaps find their names on the 53-man roster.
NFL requirements call for rosters to be cut down to 80 players by Aug. 28 and to the final 53 by Aug. 31.
So both teams will probably be holding a lot back in this initial contest.
But those who won't be holding anything back are a number of players on the cusp of landing roster spots.
These guys are hoping mad to find themselves among the ranks by laying the wood and making plays, and a couple already have been.
So here's a look at some key position battles taking place at Browns training camp:
WLB Chris Gocong is out for the season with an Achilles tear. SLB Scott Fujita is facing a three-game suspension to start the 2012 campaign. MLB D'Qwell Jackson sat out against the Packers and is resting up with an undisclosed, presumably minor, injury.
This means all three Browns' starting linebackers on the defensive depth cart aren't currently lining up with the first team.
Opportunity beckons. Fourth-rounder James-Michael Johnson has been answering the call. Third round 2009 selection Kaluka Maiava has been stepping up.
Fort ended up leading Cleveland defensive players with four tackles against the Packers, including three solo tackles.
He shared the honor with several others against Detroit, again with four tackles, but that time with two of them solo.
For his part, Robertson turned in a pair of tackles in each game, a couple hard hits and a pick-six against the Packers that was called back due to a pre-snap penalty.
JMJ had a pick of his own against the Pack.
The Browns need these young LBs to emerge quickly to fill in to start the season.
Veterans Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown have the starting CB positions pretty well locked up, but after that it's an open field with Dimitri Patterson going down to an ankle injury. So far there's no timetable for his return.
That means that second-year guys Buster Skrine and James Dockery, as well as seventh-round rookie Trevin Wade, will be squaring off to climb up the depth chart.
Behind them in the mix are undrafted rookies Johnson Bademosi and Antwuan Reed.
Skrine is one of the fastest guys on the team, but at 5'9" and 185 lbs, he lacks ideal size and can get handled by bigger WR off the line.
Dockery has flashed in camp, and both he and Wade made plays in preseason games.
Dockery had three solo tackles against the Packers while Wade had two and a key break-up of an Aaron Rodgers pass on 4th-and-2 late in the first quarter.
Another DB who has turned heads has been S David Sims, who has come down with an INT in both of the Browns two preseason games thus far.
But there is a very serious struggle going on for that sixth spot.
Vying for it are second-year vet Jordan Norwood, third-year project Carlton Mitchell, Weeden's Oklahoma State weapon Josh Cooper, Arena League star Rod Windsor, one-year player Owen Spencer, and undrafted rookies Bert Reed and Jermaine Saffold.
Norwood has the clearest edge at this point. He put up 23 receptions for 268 yards and one TD in 14 games and four starts last year.
He's also had some impressive catches in preseason so far. He went 2-for-2 against the Packers for 26 yards.
Mitchell has struggled with injury, out for much of last season and against Green Bay.
Spencer had a nice 27-yard play against the Packers, while Reed pulled in a set of passes for 17 yards and Windsor went 1-for-2 targets, getting nine yards.
Cooper didn't connect on his one target against Green Bay.
Mitchell did play against Detroit, catching one pass of two targets for 33 yards. Reed went 2-for-2 for 38 yards.
Cooper went 3-for-4 for 24 yards. Norwood caught his only target, but gained only two yards. Windsor ended up in that game with two yards as well, catching one of three targets. Spencer didn't connect on any of his three targets.
Who should be the Browns 6th WR?
This is one of the most interesting battles to watch as the next two preseason games will decide who lands that coveted sixth spot.
There's another intriguing battle brewing between 2011 fourth-round FB Owen Marecic and Trent Richardson's Alabama blocker, seventh-round rookie Brad Smelley.
Also it should be fun to see how the TE depth chart turns out, with Dan Gronkowski possibly pushing Evan Moore or Alex Smith for the fourth spot at that position.
The Browns can't really go into the season with four QBs. How the backup QB situation shakes out will be closely watched.
Third-round rookie John Hughes looks to start at DT in place of Phil Taylor. After that is another battle between rookie Billy Winn, Bears waiver Ronnie Cameron and vets Brian Schaefering, Kiante Tripp and Scott Paxson, who is injured. The real interesting question is who lands where on the depth chart when Taylor returns sometime around midseason.
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