Cleveland Browns: Top 5 Position Battles to Watch in Camp
The Cleveland Browns will open their most anticipated training camp since returning to the NFL in less than two weeks. The storylines will be plentiful and the fanbase present to take it all in will be even more so. It should be extremely exciting, especially since the most important position on the field is up for grabs.
Quarterback will not be the only position battle of note, however. The Browns have competition all over the field. Sometimes that is not a good thing. For the Browns, a team littered with young and rising talent, it certainly is.
The offense may struggle early in the year because so many positions are up for grabs. This will inevitably lead to major turnover from the guys who started last season. But once these young talents settle into their roles, watch out.
Here are five intriguing position battles to watch during training camp.
While the position battle for the starting guard spots will not demand the media attention or notoriety that others will, it is among the most important on the team. The Browns' ground attack was one of the worst in the NFL last season.
In 2013, the Browns were 27th in yards per game and 23rd in yards per attempt on the ground. The rushing charts by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) illustrate the Browns' weakness at both guard positions when trying to get a push off of the line.
To help alleviate the situation, the Browns signed utility lineman Paul McQuistan from Seattle this offseason and selected Joel Bitonio in the second round of the draft. Jason Pinkston and John Greco are holdovers who received playing time last season and will be legitimate contenders for the jobs as well.
Last training camp the Browns sustained injuries to both Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao, who is no longer with the team. This set the offensive line back and it never recovered. It seems the team is dead set on making sure that does not happen again this year.
The weakest position on the Browns roster without question is inside linebacker. The Browns replaced D’Qwell Jackson, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts, with Karlos Dansby this offseason. They did just about nothing else to address the desperate lack of depth there otherwise.
Craig Robertson, who had an abysmal 2014 campaign as a starter, is still around and looks to be the front-runner for a starting job again. The Browns also selected Chris Kirksey from Iowa in the draft. Kirksey is a more of a coverage linebacker and will not be prepared to play every down his rookie season.
Behind those two guys the Browns have a bunch of journeymen who will try to steal a starting spot. Guys like Tank Carder, Brandon Magee and Eric Martin are great for emergency depth but would be defensive liabilities if forced into major playing time.
Essentially the Browns are one injury away from having possibly the worst linebacker corps in the NFL.
Now that we got the most depressing position battle out of the way, let’s discuss the one that could end up being the most fun. As I said earlier the Browns' run game was atrocious last year.
That was partly the guards’ fault and partly a lack of talent in the backfield. That will not be a problem this season. The Browns loaded up the running back position and now will likely be forced to cut someone who can get playing time somewhere else.
That is a great problem to have.
They signed Ben Tate this offseason, and he looks poised to snag the starting role and the majority of the snaps. They also drafted Terrance West, who could be a starting running back someday, and signed undrafted free agent Isaiah Crowell, who has all the potential in the world.
Add those guys to Dion Lewis, who missed all of last season with an injury but showed huge potential in the preseason. Plus, you have Chris Ogbonnaya and Edwin Baker competing as well. It will be crowded backfield during camp, but that should ensure a talented one during the regular season.
Now for the position battle that the entire world will be watching. Can the kid riding the hype train straight out of Texas A&M beat out the hardworking underdog from Cleveland. Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer’s battle should be one for the ages.
It will not be must-see television because they are supreme talents. In fact, it is the exact opposite. Both quarterbacks are smaller in stature, scrappy and possess unique approaches to the position. Hoyer thrives in game situations, while Manziel makes huge plays but takes big risks.
This battle will most likely be decided during the preseason games. It will be interesting to see if head coach Mike Pettine splits the reps between the two players evenly or leans toward Hoyer since he has been proclaimed the starter heading into camp.
Either way it should be a fun ride to the season opener, and whoever gets that start will have to earn it.
The most puzzling position battle is easily at wide receiver. There are so many unknown factors that will play into this battle that it would be tough for anyone to predict the outcome.
First, you have the impending suspension of Josh Gordon, who led the league last year in 1,646 receiving yards. Then you have the unknown health statuses of both Nate Burleson (arm) and Miles Austin (hamstring). Finally, the Browns brought in a plethora of other young receivers to compete for spots.
If either Austin or Burleson can get healthy enough to be solid contributors before Week 1, then they should easily snag a starting spot. If they cannot, then the competition is wide-open and you could end up seeing a receiving corps full of names that fans do not recognize.
This battle is directly correlated to the quarterback competition. Each quarterback will have to rely heavily on a group to which they have never thrown passes. Whoever can adjust to the receivers quicker will have an advantage.