Predicting Cleveland Browns' Depth Chart, Post OTAs
The Cleveland Browns have finished offseason organized team activities and mini-camp and are looking forward to training camp in late July with only a couple true competitions for starting slots still up in the air.
The big questions appear to be answered as a strong performance by second-year quarterback Brandon Weeden seems to indicate he's secured his position.
Questions remain, however, at several key positions on the defense, as well as the offensive line.
Let's take a look at who the depth chart as it would stand as of right now.
1. Brandon Weeden
2. Jason Campbell
3. Brian Hoyer
All indications from the hometown reporters show Brandon Weeden stepped up to the challenge this offseason, showing leadership and dedication as well as the development expected of him.
ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi reported following minicamps:
There is no quarterback competition at Browns camp. Check that – no competition for the starting job. I see Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer sharing time with the second team. I see nobody but Brandon Weeden playing with the first team. Weeden has looked exceptional now in the last three team practices open to media. Any strong-armed passer with some playing experience should excel in the touch football phase of an NFL offseason, and Weeden has done that.
Wide receiver Greg Little told the Akron Beacon Journal that it seems to him the job has been Weeden's from the start and he did nothing to give it away.
I just feel like it’s always been Brandon’s job. [...] He’s always done the right things as a quarterback, and he’s taken his position to another level as far as being very outspoken and just being a leader, being the first guy in the building and being the last guy out. And I think he commands respect now.
1. Trent Richardson
2. Montario Hardesty
3. Dion Lewis
4. Chris Ogbonnaya
FB: Brad Smelley
Though he sat out multiple weeks of activities, Trent Richardson is still very clearly the Cleveland Browns' starting running back.
The team is resting him as a precautionary measure against a reported shin muscle strain Richardson experienced. This is no cause for worry and Richardson should be good to go.
As for the backup positions, here's the take from ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi:
Of the remaining backs, newcomer Dion Lewis was most impressive. I have him pegged as a lock for the No. 3 back. I see Montario Hardesty and Chris Ogbonnaya competing for No. 2. But an interesting dynamic may result in four making the final roster. Brandon Jackson can get into the mix, I suppose.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported: "Montario Hardesty has been the first man up in place of Trent Richardson, and shifty newcomer Dion Lewis has also gotten a lot of reps."
1. Josh Gordon
2. Greg Little
3. Davone Bess
4. David Nelson
5. Travis Benjamin
6. Josh Cooper
Browns fans heard disappointing, if unsurprising, news that second-year wide receiver Josh Gordon has been suspended for the first two games of the season for substance abuse.
Nevertheless, though he won't be in the lineup the first two weeks, Gordon is the Browns' No. 1 wide receiver.
ESPN Cleveland's Grossi said that Gordon has the most physical ability of any player on the roster.
"The only thing that can stop him from being an elite player this year is himself," Grossi wrote.
Beyond that, the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Terry Pluto has taken note of an improving Greg Little.
Greg Little has been one of the most impressive players in the minicamps. The Browns are excited about how he has embraced the new offense and performed in downfield passing schemes. The new coaches know Little is a tough guy who likes to block, doesn't miss games and his skills will translate once they actually start tackling.
And offseason pickup, Davone Bess looks like a legitimate slot threat but the Akron Beacon Journal has reported that offensive coordinator Norv Turner likes to move receivers around to create mismatches, so at times, Bess has lined up on the outside with Gordon or Little working in the slot.
“I’ve been everywhere, and all the receivers have been interchangeable as you can see,” Bess said. “So it’s just a matter of them putting us in the positions to make plays and we’ll be ready to go."
1. Jordan Cameron
2. Gary Barnidge
3. Kellen Davis
Well, at least if he's healthy Jordan Cameron should be the team's No. 1 tight end.
ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi is totally dubious about the position in general. He noted Cameron had two muscle pulls in 16 practices without being hit.
"Not a good sign," Grossi wrote. "Gary Barnidge and Kellen Davis look OK. I don’t see a playmaker at this position."
"Barnidge displayed the ability to catch the ball during the first couple of days of minicamp," George M. Thomas wrote. "That includes his eye-opening, one-handed grab from backup quarterback Brian Hoyer on an out route Wednesday."
But Cameron still holds the edge in this competition has he has shown the best receiving capability of the group and is repeatedly noted to fit the position archetype for offensive coordinator Norv Turner.
LT: Joe Thomas, O'Neil Cousins
LG: John Greco, Jason Pinkston
C: Alex Mack
RG: Shaun Lauvao, Ryan Miller
RT: Mitchell Schwartz, Garrett Gilkey
The Cleveland Plain Dealer has called the battle for the two guard positions between Greco, Lauvao and Pinkston the best offensive position battles heading into training camp.
The three have rotated with the first-string offense throughout spring practices that concluded last week.
The battle seems even more focused on Pinkston and Greco.
Greco originally earned consistent playing time last season after Pinkston was lost for the year to a blood clot in his lung on Oct. 21.
While Pinkston has shown strong ability on pass blocking, the reason I pick Greco here comes down to a "Secret Superstar" report from Pro Football Focus:
Pinkston was better as a pass blocker in the limited amount of action he saw in 2012, with a PBE Rating of 98.0 before his injury. Greco was impressive as a starter, but his own PBE Rating of 96.5 wasn’t much better than Pinkston’s 2011 mark — it was his work as a run blocker that set him apart. Playing 714 snaps, Greco’s run blocking grade of +11.3 was seventh among all guards.
LE: Ahtyba Rubin, Billy Winn
NT: Phil Taylor, John Hughes
RE: Desmond Bryant, Armonty Bryant
Joe Cullen is the Browns' new defensive line coach and has made himself noticeable during training camp as the guy who doesn't talk, he yells, according to Steve Doerschuk from the Canton Repository.
In an interview with the Akron Beacon Journal, Cullen broke down the defensive line:
I know this: You have to play a shade of a body, and Phil Taylor has played that his whole career. He’s done a great job. He’s going to be our nose tackle. Ahtyba Rubin is going to be a nose tackle/left [end]. In our scheme, sometimes the left end is the tackle, just based on what the formation is when we go to a certain part of the defense. Desmond has played all four spots across the front so he’s not out of position if you look back at all the Oakland [Raiders] tape. He played one technique, he played three technique, he played head up. It’s really not anything new there. I think they’ve done a great job, and the backups have done a great job. It’s a great group to work with.
LOLB: Paul Kruger, Quentin Groves
ROLB: Jabaal Sheard, Barkevious Mingo
ILB: D'Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson, L.J. Fort, Tank Carder
While the Browns spent their No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 draft on OLB Barkevious Mingo, third-year pro Jabaal Sheard has done enough in OTAs to maintain his position as starter.
Make no mistake, Mingo will contribute significantly this year and will continue to push Sheard in training camp. But in this defense, there will even be times when both are on the field together.
And OLB coach Brian Baker has praised Sheard's transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker in an interview with the Akron Beacon Journal.
He’s been the most pleasant surprise to me because he had the [play] of a defensive end and defensive lineman and having some of those things conflict with what he’s doing as an outside ’backer. I thought that would be more of a roadblock for him. Typically, those are those things that are. There are a lot of differences that he had to embrace as a 4-3 end in this league. He’s done a great job of separating that. He’s got a great understanding of football and just great special awareness. He’s just been really a pleasant surprise.
ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi broke down the linebacker position further:
Kruger and Sheard enter training camp as the starting outside linebackers. Sheard’s early conversion to the position has been encouraging but not complete. Barkevious Mingo will get a lot of play time if he doesn’t start immediately. Mingo’s quickness is undeniable. We don’t know how strong he is or whether he can tackle. Quentin Groves rounds out a decent foursome of rush linebackers. Craig Robertson has held down the starting inside spot next to D’Qwell Jackson. I’m not sure where James-Michael Johnson fits in this defense.
No. 1 CB: Joe Haden, Buster Skrine
No. 2 CB: Chris Owens, Leon McFadden, Trevin Wade
FS: Tashaun Gipson, Johnson Bademosi
SS: T.J. Ward, Jamoris Slaughter
Fan favorite Joe Haden is a no-brainer at No. 1 cornerback and should be poised to have a stellar season as he comes into the prime of his NFL playing career in his third year.
The No. 2 cornerback position is much hairier for the Browns, with a battle between FA pickup Chris Owens and Buster Skrine. Rookie third-round selection Leon McFadden will also make a push during training camp.
The Akron Beacon Journal's Nate Ulrich has reported that Skrine and Owens have split time with the first unit during organized team activities and minicamp.
"When the Browns employ their nickel package, Skrine has covered the slot with Owens stationed on the outside," Urlich said, leading me to pencil Owens in as the No. 2 corner for now.
T.J. Ward should also be poised to take off in the new offense that has him all over the field.
For the free safety position, Tashaun Gipson and Johnson Bademosi are battling it out, to use a Pat Shurmur-ism.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot gives the odds to Gipson.
"Gipson has the early lead on the starting free safety job, and sixth-round pick Jamoris Slaughter (Achilles) will be worked into the mix when he gets healthy," she wrote.
ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi thinks Bademosi can make a push.
"Bademosi’s physical traits and work and study habits are intriguing to the new coaches," Grossi wrote. "He is being given an opportunity to challenge Tashaun Gipson at free safety and could work his way into much more playing time on defense."
The simple fact of the matter is that special teams positions will be decided during preseason performances, making it difficult to speculate right now.
The Browns have lost Pro Bowl kicker Phil Dawson and Pro Bowl kick returner Josh Cribbs this offseason.
ESPN Cleveland's Tony Grossi thinks there's even a chance the team will keep three kickers:
Spencer Lanning is the overwhelming favorite at punter and holder. The place-kicking could break down to a combination of veteran Shayne Graham (accurate 35 yards and in) and Brandon Bogotay (a deep kickoff and long field goal specialist). There could be multiple returners – (Travis) Benjamin, Skrine, Bademosi, Lewis, even Bess.