Enjoy watching half-speed football practices in the heat? Well, luckily for you, Browns training camp is fast approaching. There’s now less than 1,000 hours until you can get your exhibition football fix.
The Browns announced their training camp schedule last week. Camp, which runs from July 25 to August 13, will feature 14 practices open to the public at the team’s Berea facility, as well as the annual Family Night at FirstEnergy Stadium on the evening of August 3. As always, admission to all sessions is free.
In a savvy move, the open practices this year will be in the afternoon, from 4 to 6:30 PM. Last year, morning practices were open to fans, while the afternoon walkthroughs were closed. Attendance at Browns camp was certainly not an issue last season, but one has to think that practices will be even more crowded with the new schedule. As someone who interned with the team during last year’s camp, I just wish they had made the switch earlier. Starting work at 6:45 AM was never ideal for a college kid home for the summer.
What will all of those fans actually be watching though? While it is surely important, not many would label training camp entertaining.
It won’t be completely boring though. The Browns, like just about every other NFL team, have important issues to resolve before the regular season begins. Fans will get the opportunity to watch a number of these questions be answered at camp.
On Monday, we looked at the defensive side of the ball. Today, we’ll examine some of the questions on offense. Later this week, we’ll turn our focus to broader issues of the organization as a whole.
Brandon Weeden is the starter. There is not a competition for the top line on the depth chart.
The backup spot is a more interesting contest. The Browns added veterans Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer in the offseason. Through minicamp, Campbell has been working with the second team while Hoyer has gotten reps with the threes. Hoyer should push Campbell for the backup position, but Campbell’s experience (72 career starts) should help him win the second spot.
There is no competition as Trent Richardson is the obvious starter, in spite of the lower leg strain that kept him out of OTAs. Like at quarterback, there will be a fight for backup positions and roster spots.
The Browns still have 2010 second-round pick Montario Hardesty on the roster. He showed some flashes last season and reports about his play have been positive so far this offseason. The team also resigned Brandon Jackson for depth and added Dion Lewis, a former Eagle, in free agency. Both face competition for a spot on the roster, but could slot in as a third down back if they survive training camp. Undrafted rookie Miguel Maysonet faces an uphill battle to make the team.
I’d expect the team to hold onto Hardesty. He’s only really played one full season so it’s a bit early to give up on such a high pick. If the Browns only keep one of Jackson and Lewis my money would be on Lewis. However, it is possible that both backs make the final roster, depending on what transpires at fullback.
Stanford product Owen Marecic is the incumbent, but the 2011 fourth-round draft pick faces stiff competition for his spot. Saying that Marecic’s hands are made of stone is a huge understatement, and with a new coaching staff that values receiving ability from all of their backs, he could be replaced if another player proves to be a serviceable blocker.
Brad Smelley, picked in the 2012 seventh round from Alabama, was drafted as a tight end, but has been converted to an H-back/fullback role. He served mostly on the practice squad last year, but he has good hands and could win Marecic’s spot if he shows solid blocking ability.
The other contender is Chris Ogbonnaya. He has been on the roster for the past two seasons as a running back, but Rob Chudzinski and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner have converted him to fullback. He brings the most running ability of the three, but, like Smelley, will have to prove he is a competent blocker. If he ends up making the roster as a fullback, expect either Jackson or Lewis to be let go.
Greg Little (and his sometimes questionable hands) and the embattled Josh Gordon are the clear starters. While Gordon serves his two game suspension, free agent signing Davone Bess should slot into his position on the outside. Once Gordon returns, Bess should slide back inside to the slot receiver position.
Other receivers on the Browns roster include free agent signee David Nelson, who is returning from a torn ACL that cost him most of the 2012 season with the Bills, and speedster Travis Benjamin, a minute fourth-round pick from 2012 who will contribute in the return game. They are both almost locks to make the final roster, Nelson for his veteran leadership and size and Benjamin for his special teams potential.
Two undrafted free agents returning to the roster who should battle for the last receiver spot are Jordan Norwood (2009) and Josh Cooper (2012), who was a teammate and favorite target of Weeden’s at Oklahoma State. They are both undersized, but Norwood may have seen his final shot in Cleveland. Expect Cooper to be the guy if these two are competing for the last spot. A host of other undrafted free agents are on the roster, but any one of them will need a magnificent training camp to steal a spot on the roster.
Jordan Cameron enters his third season after being drafted in the 2011 fourth round from Southern Cal. His size and athleticism are tantalizing, but he needs to start producing. He should be on the final roster and is currently the team’s top tight end, but the front office signed a pair of veterans, Kellen Davis and Gary Barnidge, to add depth and compete with Cameron. Neither has shown great receiving ability thus far in their NFL careers, but Barnidge has made some nice catches during minicamp drills. Expect these three to make the final roster, with Cameron keeping the starting job for now. Noted tight end brother Dan Gronkowski is also on the roster and could earn a spot if the coaching staff opts to keep four tight ends.
Second-year right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, and All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas are the entrenched starters. The two guard spots look to be a three-man battle. After blood clots limited Jason Pinkston to six games last year in his second campaign, he is healthy and ready to compete with last year’s starters, Joe Greco and Shaun Lauvao. Greco stepped in and did an admirable job as a replacement for Pinkston, and he has made his intention to hold onto the starting job very clear. It’s impossible to glean any useful information about the three guards’ play in non-contact summer workouts, but two of them should start with the other holding down a backup role.
Other linemen who will compete for backup roles include seventh-round pick Garrett Gilkey, 2012 sixth-round pick Ryan Miller, and Oniel Cousins. Gilkey played tackle at Division II Chadron State, but reports from camp are that the coaching staff will look to move him inside to guard. Miller is a versatile player who can play both guard and tackle, while the veteran Cousins saw time on special teams last season. The various other undrafted rookies and journeymen on the roster provide training camp depth, but will be long shots to remain with the team.