Post OTAs 2013 – News and Notes Part 2 – Cleveland Browns
In continuing with the Organized Team Activities breakdown, there are a few on-the-field topics. Historically, this has been a time of year when enthusiasm and optimism have been running high – hopefully the 2013 campaign is one where these feelings still hold true in the fall.
Offensive Personnel Looking Good:
It is always nice to hear about Browns’ players performing well in practice. This includes the receiving trio of Josh Gordon (who will be absent the first two games – more on that later), Greg Little, and Davone Bess. Positive articles have come out as of late, noting the two incumbents have been working hard under strength coach Brad Roll. Ironically, both missed their final collegiate season before turning pro – perhaps we can see a vast improvement from each after their first (Gordon) or second (Little) full NFL seasons. Some of this can be attributed to Davone Bess; the veteran has done an excellent job imparting his wisdom on proper route running and how to avoid defenders. These reasons alone should provide optimism to the fan base.
Along the same lines, the system that coach Chud and the offensive coordinator (Norv Turner) runs has received a great deal of praise by Cleveland media. Up-tempo has been a frequent descriptive term for the pace of practices; several are excited by how much the team’s speed appears to have improved since last season. Also, the consistent deep throws are refreshing – even the owner agrees. Jimmy Haslam stated that he “no longer sees three yard routes” as he watches from the sidelines. I have faith that Weeden can hit on these throws, while the receivers can haul them in – why can’t the 2013 offense put up a great deal of points?
A question that comes to mind now, is should we take these accolades with a grain of salt? After all, the team is not wearing pads and, in some cases, playing against air. These are professional athletes – they should look very good-to-excellent in the spring. For now, all reporters can do is mention what is occurring and speculate how it will translate into the regular season.
Defensive Position Battles:
The defense is a bit more in transition than the offense this offseason – the result is that a few jobs are up for grabs, and an opportunity to get a leg up began in OTAs. The defensive line (Phil Taylor, Athyba Rubin, and Desmond Bryant), right cornerback (Joe Haden), strong safety (T.J. Ward), and two linebackers (D’Qwell Jackson and Paul Kruger) are a few of the positions that seem pretty set.
At the inside linebacker spot opposite Jackson, a pair of second-year pros vie for Scott Fujita’s former position with the team. James-Michael Johnson (a fourth round selection from Nevada) and Craig Robertson (an undrafted athlete out of North Texas) each spent time with the Browns’ defense last season. After being injured the first couple of games in 2012, Johnson appeared in ten outings where he totaled thirty-six total tackles. Robertson appeared in all sixteen meetings last year – where he had ninety-three tackles, a sack, and two interceptions. Based off of experience, it appears that Robertson will begin training camp as the favorite; it will be up to him to hold onto that job.
The outside linebacker to pair with newly acquired Paul Kruger will likely be either Jabaal Sheard or Barkevious Mingo. (Recent acquisition Quentin Groves will play a role as an outside linebacker spot as well, but he will more than likely be included in certain situations). Sheard is the de facto incumbent, as he was a former starting defensive end with the franchise – in a 4-3 defense. The former University of Pittsburgh star had fifty-five total tackles and seven sacks last season; showing he is capable of being an NFL starter. However, after investing the number six-overall selection into Mingo, the Browns might feel pressure to give him ample opportunities to shine. I believe Sheard will start out the season as the starter, but for how long will be determined more by Mingo’s play than anything.
The starting left cornerback job can be seized by a few, as former starter Sheldon Brown is no longer with the team. Third-year member Buster Skrine has the most experience with the Browns, but will he be able to hold off rookie Leon McFadden and free agent Chris Owens? Skrine is coming off a campaign where he had eighty-five tackles, eleven passes defended, and a fumble recovery. There are still questions surrounding the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga star though, as he could not make enough plays to cement himself as an every-down player. The Browns drafted a San Diego State University cornerback in the third round – McFadden seems positive and up to the challenge to get on the field during the season opener. Owens is the wildcard; he will have to blow the coaching staff away in order to secure his spot. Like the outside linebacker battle – I see a veteran getting the nod until the rookie can prove himself.
With Usama Young departing in the offseason, the Browns must look to replace their former free safety. Two undrafted second-year players are in line to take over – Tashaun Gipson (of Wyoming) and Johnson Bademosi (of Stanford). Both were active in each contest in 2012, but a majority of the time they were on the field was during special teams. Gipson notched thirty-three tackles and had an interception against the Chiefs last season. Since he spent more time in the safety spot, I anticipate he will get the first opportunity to start games in 2013. Bademosi was a cornerback in college and played sparingly there in 2012. He had twenty tackles on special teams, but he will now be called upon to join the defense. The position change may take some time, but I would not rule out Bademosi getting a significant number of repetitions at free safety.
Conclusion: Although it is a good rule of thumb to temper oneself, Browns’ fans can have some hope from what they are hearing from OTAs. The matchups between a few defenders will now begin to heat up – I hope a few of these guys can take the starting job and never look back. Meanwhile, I look forward to solid depth at spots where there has not been much for many seasons.