Ranking the Cleveland Browns' Top 5 Sleepers to Watch in Camp
Each and every training camp there are surprises. With a new coaching staff and new general manager, the Cleveland Browns should be chock-full of them before the dust settles and they have a 53-man roster.
Sometimes the surprise is a guy being cut. Sometimes the surprise is someone making the roster at all. Other times it is an unbelievable surprise when someone snags a starting spot unexpectedly.
Last season Tashaun Gipson grabbed the starting free safety role and never looked back. When the decision was made, there were quite a few who questioned the thinking, but by the end of the season, those questions had been answered.
This next crop of Cleveland Browns may have a surprise or two as well. Here are the top five sleepers to watch during Browns training camp.
5. Ishmaa’ily Kitchen
When it comes to a combination of size and mobility, no one does it quite as uniquely as defensive lineman Ishmaa’ily Kitchen. The round mound of pound is 6’1”, 334 pounds and moves surprisingly well for a man who greatly resembles a bowling ball with dreads.
In the locker room, he is soft-spoken and as kind as can be, but on the field, it is a different story. He plays with a drive that most men his size cannot maintain.
Kitchen is just 25 years old, two years removed from Kent State University and is preparing to build on two solid NFL seasons. In his very limited playing time, Kitchen has made an impact. Under a new coaching staff, he might win some extra playing time because of effort and will power.
The man who resembles a big teddy bear only makes $570,000 in 2014, according to Spotrac.com. He could be an affordable replacement if the Browns see a veteran’s production on the decline.
4. Garrett Gilkey
There is quite a bit of competition on the Browns offensive line this season. Cleveland signed Paul McQuistan from the Seattle Seahawks and drafted Joel Bitonio. The big unknown is still who will end up starting at both guard spots.
Offensive lineman Garrett Gilkey is a guy to keep an eye on this training camp. While he was buried on the depth chart last season, he could benefit from the change in coaching staff. New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan uses a zone-blocking scheme, which Gilkey can play.
He had limited playing time last season and will need to prove he is ready for a bigger role in training camp. Once again, however, with both guard spots currently up in the air, he could end up a major benefactor and have increased playing time.
3. Edwin Baker
The Browns may have gone from one of the worst running teams in the NFL to one of the best in a single offseason. Then again, that theory is just on paper.
The additions of Ben Tate and Terrance West look extremely solid. That also means there will be a slew of other backs fighting for one or two roster spots. A guy to keep an eye on is running back Edwin Baker.
Last season, when no one could find any room to run on the Browns offense, Baker gave the running game a spark. In three games, he rushed for four yards per carry, scored two touchdowns and gained more than 64 yards twice.
Baker has a quick first step and can even block in the backfield. He will have to beat out guys such as Isaiah Powell and Dion Lewis, but he proved in a short time last season that he is a viable contender.
2. Pierre Desir
The Browns proved last season that just because you have an All-Pro cornerback does not mean you have a deep secondary. Even Joe Haden’s cover skills couldn’t keep opposing quarterbacks from lighting up their defense once other guys went down with injury.
The Browns tried to address that problem this offseason by drafting Justin Gilbert eighth overall and Pierre Desir in the fourth round. Desir is a big corner at 6’2”, 206 pounds and can play press coverage at the line of scrimmage.
It is tough to say exactly where he could steal a job, but that does not mean it won’t happen. Head coach Mike Pettine likes bigger corners who can play physical at the line of scrimmage. That just so happens to be what Desir does best.
If the Browns have any injuries at all, Desir could be thrown into a very prominent role in the defense very early in his career.
1. John Hughes
The guy most likely to snag a starting spot is John Hughes on the defensive line. He has quietly been one of the most productive big men the Browns have had over the last two seasons.
Hughes, who has been a major role player on the line for the last two years, has logged 33 tackles, four sacks and three passes defended in that time. He has become a load to block and even commands double-teams on occasion.
While he is not the most celebrated name on the Browns’ defensive roster, he is as talented as any other player it has. The other interesting factor with Hughes is that he will make just $706,000 in 2014, according to Spotrac.com.
If any of the higher-paid veterans show any signs of slowing down in training camp, then Hughes could be the guy they switch to on the line. Mike Pettine likes big physical lineman who bring it every play, and that is most certainly how you could describe Hughes.