Every time the franchise takes a step forward, something happens that knocks the Browns right back into the AFC North basement.
That rebuild begins anew in 2013, as there's a totally new regime in Cleveland, from owner Jimmy Haslam and general manager Mike Lombardi to head coach Rob Chudzinski and coordinators Norv Turner (offense) and Ray Horton (defense).
However, that rebuild won't begin from a totally bare cupboard, as the Browns have some talented young players on the roster.
Here's a position-by-position look at that roster as the Browns head to training camp in Berea, from the roster locks to the fringe players fighting for a spot.
(Jersey Numbers in Parentheses)
Brandon Weeden (3): There were rumblings early in the offseason that Weeden's role as the starting quarterback for the Browns could be in jeopardy. However, the 29-year-old second-year pro will enter training camp as the unquestioned top dog, with the hopes that Cleveland's new vertical offense will better suit Weeden's skill set after an uneven rookie year.
Jason Campbell (17): With Colt McCoy now in San Francisco, the Browns turned over the role of backup signal-caller to the 31-year-old Campbell, who spent 2012 in Chicago. The ninth-year veteran isn't a worldbeater by any stretch, but with 71 career starts under his belt Campbell provides Cleveland with an experienced and capable insurance policy.
Brian Hoyer (6): A fifth-year pro from Lakewood, Ohio, Hoyer signed with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2009. Now working on his fourth NFL team, Hoyer made his first career start last year as a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Hoyer wasn't horrible in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers, but if things reach a point where he's starting in Cleveland, then the Browns are in trouble.
Trent Richardson (33): Cleveland's first of two first-round picks a year ago, Richardson scored 13 touchdowns as a rookie, but rib and knee injuries conspired to hold Richardson under 1,000 yards on the ground. If he can stay healthy, there's reason to think Richardson could be in for a big year given Norv Turner's propensity for riding his lead back.
Montario Hardesty (20): Hardesty has shown some talent when he's on the field. However, that's the problem. The third-year pro has missed nine games in two seasons with an assortment of maladies, but when healthy Hardesty is a decent, if unspectacular complementary back.
Dion Lewis (28): The Browns acquired Lewis in a trade earlier in the offseason after two mostly lackluster seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. The 5'8", 195-pounder is far from a lock to make the 53-man roster, but if Lewis sticks he could see some third-down work this year.
Chris Ogbonnaya (25): A fourth-year journeyman on his third team, Ogbonnaya actually started four games and gained over 4.5 yards a carry for the Browns back in 2011. However, Ogbonnaya has a very similar skill set to Lewis and Jackson, so it's possible he could find himself caught in a roster crunch if he falters in camp.
Brandon Jackson (29): Jackson, who re-upped with the Browns for one more year back in May, is a seventh-year veteran who saw quite a bit of action back in 2010 while with the Green Bay Packers. Jackson offers very little in the way of explosiveness, but he's a capable pass-blocker and receiver who could stick as a third-down specialist.
Miguel Maysonet (35): If small-school stars warm your heart, then the former Stony Brook standout is right up your alley. However, the same numbers game that saw the 5'9", 209-pound rookie already get waived by the Philadelphia Eagles may leave Maysonet the odd man out in Cleveland.
Owen Marecic (48): The third-year pro out of Stanford had an atrocious 2012, grading out as one of the worst fullbacks in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). However, the former fourth-round pick is eager for redemption, telling Ryan Lewis of The Akron Beacon-Journal that he is "motivated this year to come out and give it everything.”
Brad Smelley (47): A second-year "H-back" out of the University of Alabama, Smelley spent most of last year on the practice squad before being activated late in the season. Although listed as a fullback, the 6'2", 235-pound Smelley worked almost exclusively with the tight ends in minicamp according to Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Josh Gordon (13): After displaying considerable talent as a rookie in 2012, many pundits expect Gordon to emerge as Brandon Weeden's go-to receiver with the Browns. Unfortunately, that ascension has been at least temporarily postponed, as the 6'3", 225-pound Gordon will miss the first two games of the 2013 season after testing positive for a banned substance earlier this year according to the Associated Press via ESPN.
Greg Little (18): Little has drawn the ire of Browns fans since being drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft, due in large part to a jaw-dropping 23 dropped passes in two seasons according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). However, Little seemed to come on a bit towards the end of last year. The Browns badly need a third-year "breakout" from Little, especially in light of Gordon's suspension.
Davone Bess (15): Bess comes to the Browns via a draft-day trade with the Miami Dolphins, where he reeled in 61 passes for 778 yards last year. The 27-year-old will man the slot in Cleveland. Bess isn't a game-breaker by any stretch, but he is a capable route-runner and sure-handed pass-catcher who should be a big part of the passing game as a possession receiver in 2013.
David Nelson (11): Another veteran receiver brought in in free agency, Nelson lost almost the entire 2012 season to injury and wasn't tendered a contract offer by the Buffalo Bills. At 6'5", Nelson is a big target who hauled in more than 60 catches and five scores for the Bills in 2011, and he provides some depth for the Browns at a position where that's been lacking the past few years.
Travis Benjamin (80): A second-year speedster out of the University of Miami, Benjamin will be one of the players counted on to step up his game while Gordon sits early in the year. Brandon Weeden believes that Benjamin is ready to do just that, telling Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal in June that “His route running is phenomenal, probably because he’s so fast."
Josh Cooper (88): A collegiate teammate of Weeden at Oklahoma State, Cooper signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent last year, playing in six games and catching eight passes. A possession-type who isn't much of a threat to hurt opposing defenses vertically, Cooper will once again be fighting for a roster spot in training camp.
Keenan Davis (16): The former Iowa Hawkeye went undrafted in April, signing with the Browns as a free agent. Davis, who caught 47 passes for 571 yards and a score last year, has good size at 6'3", but only average speed, making the youngster one of a handful of marginal talents who will be fighting for the last couple of wideout spots with the Browns this year.
Jordan Norwood (10): A fifth-year pro out of Penn State, Norwood must be doing something right to have stuck around in the NFL as long as he has. Over the past two seasons Norwood has caught 36 passes for 405 yards and a touchdown for the Browns. He's certainly no superstar, but the fact that he's shown some ability to produce in the NFL gives Norwood a bit of an edge where locking down a roster spot is concerned.
Cordell Roberson (83): The all-time leading receiver at Stephen F. Austin University, Roberson signed a free-agent deal with the Browns after not being selected in April's draft. Roberson has an interesting blend of good size (6'4") and some speed. If he can pick up Cleveland's offense quickly, Roberson has the tools to surprise some people.
Dominique Croom (89): Another rookie free-agent signing by the Browns this year, the 6'2" Croom caught 77 passes for 1,006 yards and 10 touchdowns at Central Arkansas last year. Croom possesses 4.5 speed and has returned kicks in the past, and that experience on special teams will help his chances of making the 53-man roster.
Mike Edwards (86): The Browns weren't shy about adding undrafted rookie receivers this spring, including the 5'11", 200-pound Edwards, who topped 800 receiving yards and eight scores in 2012 at UTEP. Edwards doesn't possess any skills that really make him stand out, and the youngster is a long shot to make the team.
Tori Gurley (9): A third-year player out of the University of South Carolina, Gurley has yet to appear in an NFL game despite being in camp with or on the practice squad of the Packers, Ravens, Vikings, Raiders, Buccaneers and Chargers. That tells you all you really need to know about Gurley, who faces an uphill battle to stick in Cleveland.
Jordan Cameron (84): A second-year pro out of USC, many pundits are expecting big things from Cameron in 2013. They include Bucky Brooks of NFL.com, who wrote recently that "Cameron's athleticism and versatility will encourage Cleveland's new coaching staff to deploy the tight end in a variety of alignments to take advantage of mismatches in the secondary."
Kellen Davis (81): The 27-year-old Davis was the starter in Chicago each of the past two seasons before inking a one-year free-agent deal to join the Browns. Davis had five touchdown grabs back in 2011 but hasn't topped the 20-catch mark in either of those years. He'll serve primarily as a blocker in two-tight end sets with the Browns.
Gary Barnidge (82): A four-year veteran, Barnidge is hardly a household name, but he has started 11 games over the past three seasons for the Carolina Panthers. The 6'5", 250-pounder, like Davis, is much more a blocker than a weapon in the passing game, although if he can stay healthy he's likely a better receiver than Davis is.
Dan Gronkowski (87): The "other" Gronkowski was signed by the Browns in 2011, but waived in August of 2012. After sitting out the 2012 season, the team brought the 6'5", 255-pound Gronkowski back in January. Family pedigree aside, Gronkowski is already on his fourth NFL team and has all of nine career catches, so a roster spot is far from a sure thing.
Travis Tannahill (49): Tannahill was a first-team All Big-12 selection as a senior at Kansas State, after a 2012 season in which he caught 23 passes for 284 yards and a touchdown. As those numbers indicate, Tannahill is a much better blocker than pass-catcher, but his experience on special teams could help the undrafted free agent's chances of sticking around.
Alex Mack (55): Since being drafted in the first round in 2009, Mack has started 64 straight games for the Browns, developing into one of the better centers in the NFL. The 27-year-old ranked ninth among players at his position in 2012 according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and with Mack heading into a contract year locking him up long-term is a priority for the team according to Brian McIntyre of Yahoo! Sports.
Braxston Cave (68): Cave entered the 2012 college football season as a highly-touted prospect, but despite being named a third-team All American as a senior Cave's name wasn't called in the 2013 NFL draft. However, Bleacher Report's Jon Dove listed Cave among his "Undrafted Free Agents Sure to Make NFL Training Camps Interesting," and the Browns may well have gotten a steal with the 6'3", 303-pounder.
Shawn Lauvao (66): A fourth-year pro, Lauvao has started all 16 games in each of the past two seasons for the Browns. However, the 6'3", 315-pounder is likely the proverbial "weak link" in the Cleveland offensive line, grading out poorly in 2012 according to Pro Football Focus.
John Greco (77): A third-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2008, Greco saw the most extensive action of his career in 2012, starting 10 games for the Browns. Greco fared well over that stretch, grading out as a top-20 guard per PFF. Greco was especially stout in run blocking, with Pro Football Focus ranking him the seventh-best guard in the NFL last year in that regard.
Jason Pinkston (62): Pinkston opened the 2012 season as Cleveland's starting left guard, but a blood clot in the 25-year-old's lung cut Pinkston's season short after six games. Even if he's healthy this year Pinkston may be hard-pressed to get his starting job back, as he graded out as the fourth-worst run blocking guard in the NFL in 2011 according to PFF.
Jarrod Shaw (74): Shaw spent much of the first two seasons of his NFL career bouncing between the Browns practice squad and the street, before being called up to the active roster last October after Pinkston went down. A former undrafted free agent, the 6'3", 316-pound Shaw will battle for a roster spot as interior line depth in camp.
Caylin Hauptmann (61): A 6'4", 312-pound rookie out of Florida International, Hauptmann will make the switch to guard after playing tackle in college. NFL.com says of the undrafted free agent "Hauptmann isn’t as tall as most scouts prefer in an offensive tackle prospect, but the strength and agility he’s shown as a blind-side starter for the Panthers gives him a chance to make it at the next level."
Dominic Alford (78): Alford spent the entire 2011 season on Cleveland's practice squad, then re-joined the team in February after some time on the Carolina Panthers practice squad towards the end of last year. The 25-year-old has yet to be an active player at the NFL level, and I wouldn't hold my breath on that changing this year.
Joe Thomas (73): Thomas is the Browns' best and highest-paid player, and one of the top left tackles in the National Football League. It's a testimonial to just how good Thomas is, that the fact that Cleveland passed on Adrian Peterson in the 2007 NFL draft to select Thomas doesn't cause Browns fans to want to punch something.
Mitchell Schwartz (72): The Browns selected Schwartz in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft. The 6'5", 320-pound Cal product didn't disappoint, starting all 16 games as a rookie and grading out as the NFL's seventh-best right tackle according to Pro Football Focus. Combined with Thomas, the pair forms one of the league's best duos at the ends of the offensive line.
Oniel Cousins (75): A third-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in 2008, Cousins has been with the Browns since 2011. The 6'4", 315-pound former UTEP product has five career starts on his resume and appeared in 14 games last year. Cousins provides decent depth behind the Browns' stalwart starters.
Rashad Butler (79): An eighth-year veteran who spent the last six seasons in Houston, Butler signed a one-year deal with the Browns in May. Butler could provide the Browns with some valuable veteran depth on the offensive front, but first he'll have to show that he's recovered from the triceps injuries that have cost him most of the past two seasons.
Ryan Miller (60): Miller appeared in eight games as a rookie last year after being drafted in the fifth round out of Colorado. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com called the 6'7", 320-pound Miller "a physical offensive lineman with size and strength [who] should improve the depth along the interior," prior to the 2012 NFL draft.
Chris Faulk (70): Faulk was one of college football most highly-touted tackle prospects entering the 2012 season, but a serious knee injury caused the 6'6", 325-pound bruiser to fall out of the draft entirely. First-round pick and former college teammate Barkevious Mingo thinks that the Browns got a steal with Faulk, telling Tom Reed of The Cleveland Plain Dealer that “I know what he’s got; I know what he can do. He’s going to have a long career playing in this league.”
Garrett Gilkey (65): A small-school standout at tiny Chadron State, Gilkey got on the draft-day radar with a strong showing at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine, where he displayed good strength and agility. The 6'6", 318-pounder was chosen in the seventh round of April's draft, and will fight for a roster spot as depth up front, with a switch to guard a real possibility.
Martin Wallace (64): The 306-pound Wallace, who was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Browns, was a three-year starter at Temple, where he played both left and right tackle. That versatility will help Wallace's chances of earning a long look, but he faces an uphill battle in securing a roster spot.
Aaron Adams (63): Another undrafted free agent, Adams was a four-year starter at Eastern Kentucky University and a two-time All-Ohio Valley Conference performer. The 6'5", 305-pounder was also a third-team FCS All-American in 2012, but it's a big jump from that level of competition to the NFL.
Ahtyba Rubin (71): With the Browns making the switch to a 3-4 front under new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Rubin will slide from defensive tackle to end. The 330-pound, sixth-year veteran logged over 80 tackles in both 2010 and 2011, but Rubin will probably be hard-pressed to match that level of production in his new spot.
Desmond Bryant (92): A fifth-year pro who spent his first four seasons in Oakland, Bryant signed a five-year, $24 million free-agent deal to join the Browns. Bryant only has 11.5 career sacks, but those came in limited playing time, and the Raiders though enough of Bryant to have "badly" wanted him back according to Peter King of Sports Illustrated.
Billy Winn (90): One of a number of players transitioning to a new role in Horton's 3-4, Winn will have to learn a new spot in 2013 after playing tackle as a rookie. The 6'4", 295-pounder actually made 10 starts last year due to injuries, performing fairly well. He'll be counted on in 2013 as depth and to occasionally give the starters a breather.
John Hughes (93): The Browns have a ton of bulk up front, including Hughes, who was the Browns' third-round pick last year. Like many of the Cleveland beefeaters, he'll slide to end in the new defense. However, it's not out of the realm of reason that Hughes, who had 34 tackles and three sacks in 2012, could also man the nose if necessary.
Brian Sanford (70): A fourth-year pro out of Temple, Sanford signed as an undrafted free agent with the Browns back in 2010. Sanford spent the first seven weeks of the 2012 season on the practice squad, appearing in one game after being activated. With a new regime in town, Sanford may face relatively long odds of being among the final 53, although a trip back to the practice squad is a possibility.
Armonty Bryant (95): Another small-school stud, hailing from tiny East Central (OK) college, Bryant was a seventh-round pick by the Browns in April. The 6'4", 263-pounder caught the eye of the NFL Network's Mike Mayock, with Mayock writing "That's one of my favorites. He's got an explosion to him. I thought he was worth the risk, and apparently so did the Cleveland Browns."
Hall Davis (91): Davis was a fifth-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2010. Since then, he racked up quite a few frequent flyer miles, spending time with the Rams, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and now the Browns. However, the 6'6", 262-pound Davis has yet to record an NFL tackle, and he's a long shot to make the active roster.
Dave Kruger (69): The younger brother of outside linebacker Paul Kruger, Dave joined his older bro with the Browns after signing as a rookie free agent. Kruger recorded 30 tackles and half a sack playing with Star Lotulelei at Utah last year, but he may need a good word from big brother if he's going to stick in Cleveland.
Phil Taylor (98): Taylor was the Browns first-round pick in 2011, and was impressive as a rookie, notching 59 tackles and four sacks. Injuries limited Taylor to eight games last year, and in 2013 he'll make the transition to nose tackle. There, his job will be less about wreaking havoc on his own than taking up space so that other players can clean up.
Ishmaa'ily Kitchen (67): Kitchen was signed by the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2012, only to be cut loose and subsequently picked up by the Browns. The 330-pound mountain of a man played in 15 games last year, making 17 tackles, and as things stand right now he'll serve as Taylor's primary backup.
Nick Jean-Baptiste (94): Am undrafted rookie out of Baylor, Jean-Baptiste logged 38 tackles and four sacks for the Bears last year, and was a star of January's East-West Shrine Game. The 335-pounder certainly has the girth to play the nose in the 3-4, and he could easily usurp Kitchen and earn a roster spot.
D'Qwell Jackson (52): The 29-year-old led the NFL with 116 solo tackles in 2011, but that number plummeted to only 63 a year ago. Still, Ray Horton loves to blitz his inside linebackers, and his scheme made a star of Daryl Washington with the Arizona Cardinals last year. Look for it to do the same with Jackson in 2013.
Craig Robertson (53): A third-year pro out of North Texas, Robertson has made the climb from undrafted free agent to NFL starter. Robertson topped 90 tackles last year, and he's ready to prove that was no fluke, telling Tom Reed of The Cleveland Plain Dealer that "It doesn’t matter where you line up. I’m always going to get after it.”
L.J. Fort (58): Yet another undrafted free agent who found his way onto the field with some regularity as a rookie for the Browns, Fort made one start for Cleveland in 2012, totaling 20 tackles on the season. The new staff appears set to kick Fort inside in the 3-4, where he will back up Johnson at the WILB spot.
Tank Carder (59): A former All-American at TCU, Carder was drafted in the fifth round by the Buffalo Bills in 2012, only to be released just before the season started. The Browns signed him the next day, but he played sparingly as a rookie, starting one game and making seven tackles. Still, the 6'2", 235-pounder should be able to at least carve out a niche as a reserve SILB given his hard-nosed playing style, and he may actually be a better fit there than in the 4-3.
Adrian Moten (56): Moten has been the definition of a journeyman since signing as a UDFA with the Indianapolis Colts in 2011, spending time in Indy, Seattle, Philadelphia and now Cleveland. Moten has appeared in 13 games over that stretch, but he hasn't made a tackle on defense since 2011, so if he earns a roster spot it will but certainly be on special teams.
Tommy Smith (42): Smith latched on with the Browns after attending their rookie minicamp on a tryout basis. A three year starter at Boise State, Smith ranked third on the Broncos with 61 tackles in 2012. The 6'3", 238-pound Smith was an honorable mention All-MWC performer last year, but he's a longshot to make it all the way through camp.
Jabaal Sheard (97): After a pair of fairly successful seasons as a 4-3 defensive end, 2013 is going to be a year of big changes for Sheard, who is shifting to outside linebacker in the 3-4. Sheard's starting spot is far from secure if Barkevious Mingo picks up the defense quickly, although Terry Pluto of The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently relayed that Cleveland's staff has been very pleased with Sheard's progress so far.
Paul Kruger (99): Kruger was the centerpiece of the Browns' free-agent acquisitions this year, inking a $40 million contract after tallying nine sacks for the Baltimore Ravens in 2012. Horton and the Browns will be counting on Kruger to back up last year's breakout season, as the cornerstone of a 3-4 front is the ability of outside linebackers to generate pressure on the quarterback.
Barkevious Mingo (51): Mingo was the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, a player who the NFL Network's Mike Mayock called "an explosive presence off the edge." However, for all of Mingo's impressive physical skills the 6'4", 241-pounder had only 4.5 sacks last year. The Browns will be hoping for more from the youngster in his first NFL season.
Quentin Groves (54): Groves was a second-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars back in 2008, but to this point in his career Groves hasn't come close to that billing. Now on his fourth NFL team, Groves was arrested in April and charged with soliciting a prostitute, so the 29-year-old may well need a strong camp to keep his NFL career on track.
James-Michael Johnson (50): Drafted by the Browns in the fourth round a year ago, former coordinator Dick Jauron considered JMJ a potential starter. According to Terry Pluto of The Cleveland Plain Dealer, however, there may not be room for Johnson in the 3-4, with Pluto stating that Johnson is "lost in this system" and "nowhere in the plans and is likely to be cut."
Kendrick Adams (65): Adams was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars as an undrafted free agent in 2012. Since then, he has spent time in camp or on the practice squad in Jacksonville, Detroit and Tampa Bay before joining the Browns this year. It's doubtful that the fourth time will be the charm for the former Nevada standout.
Justin Staples (44): The 6'3", 242-pound Staples played defensive end at the University of Illinois, but he'll try to latch on with the Browns as an outside linebacker. A Berea, Ohio native, Staples didn't make much of a dent with the Illini (20 tackles, .5 sacks as a senior), and he's the longest of long shots to make the team.
Joe Haden (23): The Browns took Haden in the top-10 of the 2010 NFL draft, and headed into last year he was well on his way to justifying that pick. A four-game substance abuse suspension delayed Haden's ascension at least temporarily, but given his talent and the fact that he's still only 24, there's little reason to think Haden isn't on his way to becoming of the NFL's truly elite cornerbacks.
Leon McFadden (29): There have been some great defensive backs (Eric Turner, Hanford Dixon) wear the No. 29 in Cleveland, and 2013 third-round pick Leon McFadden hopes to be the next. Slated to potentially start as a rookie, the NFL Network's Mike Mayock says of McFadden "He will compete. He's quick-footed. He's a playmaker and has some return skills."
Chris Owens (21): The 26-year-old Owens spent the first four years of his career with the Atlanta Falcons, making 12 starts and intercepting three passes over that stretch. Owens will likely see the most extensive playing time of his young career in 2013, and he's the leading candidate heading into training camp to be the Browns' nickelback.
Buster Skrine (22): Injuries and Haden's suspension thrust Skrine into a prominent defensive role in his second NFL season. Skrine tallied 85 tackles on the year, but his high tackle numbers are indicative of just how often the player he was "covering" made the catch. In 2013, Skrine appears headed back to a subpackage role, which is where he belongs.
Josh Aubrey (37): An undrafted free-agent signee, Aubrey totaled 65 tackles, two interceptions, two sacks and a forced fumble last year at Stephen F. Austin, where he was a four-year starter and All-Conference selection. Aubrey has 4.4-second speed, which could greatly help his chances of at least landing a role on special teams.
Trevin Wade (26): Wade was a seventh-round pick of the Browns in 2012, and actually saw the field with some regularity, appearing in 13 games. Wade's 17 tackles in those games certainly aren't eye-popping numbers, but in an NFL where you can never have too many cornerbacks, Wade is at least a serviceable depth option.
Abdul Kanneh (40): Never let it be said that the Browns don't scour the country looking for prospects, as the team signed a number of rookie free agents from tiny schools. Among them is Kanneh, a 5'10", 183-pound cornerback out of New Mexico Highlands. Kanneh's best chances of making the team likely lie as a "gunner" on special teams.
Akeem Auguste (34): It was only in a rotational role, but the 5'9", 188-pound Auguste played in the SEC in 2012, racking up 18 tackles and an interception for South Carolina. Auguste also averaged 28 yards a kickoff return in 2012, and his ability to contribute on special teams is probably key to his chances of making the team
Vernon Kearney (31): A converted receiver from Lane College, Kearney originally signed with the Buffalo Bills, then was cut and offered a spot by the Browns after taking part in tryouts during rookie minicamp. As one of the very last players signed by the team, however, his chances of lasting very far into August are minimal.
T.J. Ward (43): Ward was a revelation as a rookie, notching 95 solos, but his numbers dropped way off in 2011. The 26-year-old appeared ready to rebound in 2012, only to suffer a broken hand that limited him the rest of the season. With that said, Ward is a talented young safety and punishing hitter who serves as Cleveland's last line of defense.
Tashaun Gipson (39): The strong safety spot may be set in Cleveland, but the starting job at free safety is still very much up in the air. One of the players vying for that spot is Gipson, who had 33 tackles as a rookie in 2012. However, while Gipson may be the early leader in the race to start, he's going to have to hold off a number of challengers.
Johnson Bademosi (24): One of those challengers is Bademosi, a second-year pro who signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent. The 6'0", 200-pound Bademosi made his bones as a rookie on special teams, pacing the team with 18 tackles. That ability is a form of job security, as even should he lose the battle at safety Bademosi's roster spot appears relatively safe.
Jamoris Slaughter (30): Had the Notre Dame standout not gotten injured in 2012, Slaughter all but surely would have been drafted before the sixth round. However, Slaughter may well end up yet another late value for the Browns, with the NFL Network's Mike Mayock writing "What I like about him is he can play free safety. When they played teams that ran option, they actually put him in as a sub linebacker. It's true value for me for the Cleveland Browns. He'll compete at special teams and ultimately as a free safety."
Kenronte Walker (36): The 6'0", 210-pound Walker had 68 tackles last year at Missouri, taking home SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors after the Tigers downed Arizona State early in the season. The Browns brought Walker in as an undrafted free agent, but the chips are stacked against his stay in Cleveland being very long.
Kent Richardson (38): Richardson is something of an interesting story. He's trying to take the Kurt Warner route to NFL stardom, after having been named Defensive Back of the Year for leading the Arena Football League with 14 interceptions in 2012. Still, there's a pretty big step up from the Philadelphia Soul to the NFL, so Richardson is a big-time longshot.
Shayne Graham (7): For the first time since the Browns re-joined the NFL in 1999, someone besides Phil Dawson will be doing the placekicking in Cleveland. That player is 12th-year veteran Shayne Graham, who converted 31-of-38 field goal attempts for the Houston Texans in 2012.
Spencer Lanning (5): Lanning lost the punting competition with the Browns last year, but the 25-year-old is ready for his fifth shot at sticking in the NFL. According to Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland, Lanning thinks he's a great fit for the inclement weather in Cleveland, saying “As far as punting goes, I’m built for cold weather. It’s one of those fun little facts—shorter guys, shorter drops. They keep the ball low. It doesn’t have much time to move in the air."
Brandon Bogotay (8): A "camp leg", Bogotay was the backup to Blair Walsh of the Minnesota Vikings while both were at the University of Georgia. Unless Graham gets hurt, Bogotay has next to no chance of making the club.
T.J. Conley (2): The other half of the punting competition in Cleveland this summer, Conley averaged 42.7 yards per punt for the New York Jets in 2011. He was out of the NFL altogether last year, but the fact that the 27-year-old has NFL experience at least gives him a puncher's (or punter's, as the case may be) chance of winning the job.
Christian Yount (57): A third-year pro from UCLA, Yount played in all 16 games for the Browns last year and is the only long snapper in camp. That's called job security, folks.