Defensive/Special Teams Top Training Camp Battles
In part two of our series, we continue tobreak down matchups between athletes at the same position spots for the Cleveland Browns. When camp commences in a few weeks, guys will go all out to prove they are the best man for the job. Some battles are for a potential starting spot, while others are for a guaranteed place on the roster. Who are the players that figure into exciting competitions?
Defensive Line: Phil Taylor vs. Billy Winn vs. Ishmaa’ily Kitchen
The fact that Taylor and Winn are entering their final year of their rookie contracts adds a little spice to this matchup. Last year, I would have thought that both would be safe and with the team for years to come, but the signing of Randy Starks and drafting of Danny Shelton and Xavier Cooper all but changed that. Being able to display an ability to play all three positions will be critical for these defensive linemen – as only one guy from this trio might be suiting up for the orange and brown in September.
Linebacker: Scott Solomon vs. Barkevious Mingo
On the outside, this is a battle of opposites. On one hand, there is a top-ten draft pick with both a pass rushing ability and a knack for covering opposing receivers. Mingo’s main downfall has been his injuries and not being able to perform to elevated expectations that come with being a top draft choice. In the other corner is an undrafted free agent who came out of nowhere to have a few nice games for the Browns in 2014. Solomon entered the team with low expectations and has easily exceeded those. Not known for his coverage skills, he will be facing an uphill battle against Mingo. Both should get playing time this season, but only one will be lining up with Paul Kruger in the first quarter – whom will it be?
Safety: Jordan Poyer vs. Tashaun Gipson
Whilst holding out of minicamp and OTAs, Tashaun Gipson opened an opportunity for others to start at free safety. The main beneficiary of that was Jordan Poyer, who filled in admirably during the June practices. Can that continue for the coming months? I suspect that Gipson will be able to fend off his counterpart for a majority of the year, but if Poyer can prove to be a reliable reserve safety in this defense – that could be a victory in itself.
Cornerback: Justin Gilbert vs. K’Waun Williams vs. Pierre Desir
It would appear that veterans Joe Haden and Tramon Williams will be holding down the starting (outside) cornerback spots. Therefore, in order to crack into this lineup – the trio listed above must compete at nickel and dime spots (at least initially). Gilbert was the early draft pick, while the other two have proven more on the field – despite being taken in the later rounds or not being drafted at all. I anticipate this being the fiercest competition in camp; as the stakes are very high and there is plenty of talent among the three.
Kicker: Travis Coons vs. Carey Spear vs. Free Agent?
Well, somebody’s got to kick all of those extra points, right? Both Billy Cundiff and Garrett Hartley are neither on the roster; so a new guy will have to take over in 2015. Spear is the local kid who provided a few punishing tackles on kickoffs (in college) – other than that I have to admit I am pretty green in terms of knowledge between the duo. Hopefully one guy can come out in camp, show (near) perfection, and maintain that in the regular season. It especially won’t be easy during the tail end of the year with the cold, wind, and snow, but the last thing this team needs is another question mark.