Several position battles will be waged this summer in Berea as the Browns prepare for the 2012 season.
The competition will peak once training camp begins in late July and preseason games start a couple of weeks later, but the players will try to establish early advantages in the meantime.
The Browns will hold their mandatory minicamp today through Thursday and their final set of organized team activities June 12-15. So now seems like an appropriate time to examine the roster and the jobs that are up for grabs on offense and defense.
Veterans: Thaddeus Lewis, Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. Drafted rookie: Brandon Weeden (first round, 22nd overall).
Analysis: Barring injury or an unforeseen preseason meltdown of monumental proportions, Weeden will be the starter in Week 1. The only real competition is between McCoy and Wallace for the No. 2 spot, but that could change, because Browns General Manager Tom Heckert indicated last month that the team is open to exploring trades. McCoy has advantages because he is younger (25 versus 31) and cheaper ($540,000 base salary this year versus $2.4 million) than Wallace. But as the incumbent starter, McCoy’s presence could create a distraction for Weeden. For that reason, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Browns ultimately deal McCoy and keep Wallace, whose strong ties to President Mike Holmgren shouldn’t be dismissed.
Veterans: Josh Cribbs, Greg Little, Mohamed Massaquoi, Carlton Mitchell, Jordan Norwood, Owen Spencer and Rod Windsor. Drafted rookie: Travis Benjamin (fourth round, 100th overall). Undrafted rookies: Josh Cooper, Bert Reed and Jermaine Saffold.
Analysis: Little and Massaquoi are penciled in as the starters, and Cribbs is expected to be a regular in the rotation. In a battle for consistent playing time as the primary slot receiver, Benjamin is the favorite to supplant Norwood and hold off Cooper, the most likely of all the undrafted rookies to make the team. If Mitchell wants to stick around for his third season, he must have a strong summer.
Veterans: Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya. Drafted rookie: Trent Richardson (first round, third overall). Undrafted rookie: Adonis Thomas.
Analysis: Richardson is a lock to start and become a workhorse, but who will be his primary backup? The Browns hope Hardesty can finally stay healthy and prove himself worthy of a second-round pick, but it will be an uphill battle considering his medical history, which includes a torn ACL and a torn calf muscle in the past two years. Jackson, who has returned to action after missing all of last season with an injured toe, is viewed as an ideal third-down back, and he has what it takes to challenge Hardesty for playing time. Ogbonnaya will fight for a roster spot and could benefit if either Hardesty or Jackson suffer setbacks on the comeback trail.
Veterans: Owen Marecic and Eddie Williams. Drafted rookie: Brad Smelley (seventh round, 247th overall).
Analysis: Smelley, who impressed during rookie minicamp, could push Marecic for his starting spot, provided Smelley can prove himself as a lead blocker. Marecic, a fourth-round pick in 2011, suffered two concussions last season as a rookie, so his health could be something to watch.
Veterans: Jordan Cameron, Dan Gronkowski, Evan Moore, Alex Smith and Benjamin Watson.
Analysis: Watson returns as the starter, though he suffered three concussions last season. Moore must prove himself worthy of becoming more involved in the offense after he seemingly disappeared from the game plan at times last season. Browns coach Pat Shurmur has praised Cameron for his development this offseason, so Cameron might challenge Moore for playing time.
Veterans: Dominic Alford, Oniel Cousins, Stanley Daniels, John Greco, Shawn Lauvao, Alex Mack, Jason Pinkston, Jarrod Shaw and Joe Thomas. Drafted rookies: Ryan Miller (fifth round, 160th overall) and Mitchell Schwartz (second round, 37th overall). Undrafted rookies: Jake Anderson, Matt Cleveland, Garth Gerhart and Jeff Shugarts.
Analysis: There’s no mystery here. The starters are Thomas (left tackle), Pinkston (left guard), Mack (center), Lauvao (right guard) and Schwartz (right tackle).
Veterans: Marcus Benard, Auston English, Juqua Parker, Scott Paxson, Ahtyba Rubin, Frostee Rucker, Brian Sanford, Brian Schaefering, Jabaal Sheard, Emmanuel Stephens, Phil Taylor and Kiante Tripp. Drafted rookies: John Hughes (third round, 87th overall) and Billy Winn (sixth round, 205th overall). Undrafted rookie: William Green.
Analysis: The starting lineup — Sheard (left end), Taylor, Rubin (tackles) and Rucker (right end) — was set until Taylor tore his left pectoral muscle last month while lifting weights. The Browns are optimistic Taylor will be able to play by late October or early November, but no one should count on it. In the meantime, Hughes, Winn and Paxson will compete to replace Taylor in the starting lineup. The early favorite is Hughes because the Browns liked him enough to spend a third-round pick, and he has more beef than his competition.
Veterans: JoJo Dickson, Scott Fujita, Chris Gocong, D’Qwell Jackson, Benjamin Jacobs, Kaluka Maiava, Craig Robertson and Quinton Spears. Drafted rookies: Emmanuel Acho (sixth round, 204th overall) and James-Michael Johnson (fourth round, 120th overall). Undrafted rookie: L.J. Fort.
Analysis: The starters from last season return in Jackson (middle), Gocong (weak side) and Fujita (strong side), but Fujita has been suspended for the first three games of the upcoming season for his alleged role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal. If his suspension is upheld — and that appears likely — the Browns could move Gocong to the strong side and let Maiava start on the weak side. However, Johnson or Acho could enter the mix, too. Based on a few spring practices, I think Johnson has what it takes to become a starting outside linebacker (either weakside or strongside, depending on where defensive coordinator Dick Jauron wants to place Gocong) in Week 1, but he must show it when the hitting begins in the preseason.
Veterans: Sheldon Brown, James Dockery, Joe Haden, Eric Hagg, Dimitri Patterson, David Sims, Buster Skrine, Ray Ventrone, T.J. Ward and Usama Young. Drafted rookie: Trevin Wade (seventh round, 245th overall). Undrafted rookies: Johnson Bademosi, Emanuel Davis, Tashaun Gipson and Antwuan Reed.
Analysis: Hagg and Young are vying for the starting free safety spot, and Hagg appears to have an early lead because he has been practicing with the first-team defense throughout OTAs, and Young has been working with the second unit. It will be interesting to see whether Hagg, a seventh-round pick in 2011, can convince the coaches he’s good enough to not only be named the starting free safety but to become the full-time free safety as well. Mike Adams, who signed with the Denver Broncos this offseason, started every game at free safety last season, but he also rotated with Young. At cornerback, Haden is a lock to start. Brown will try to maintain his starting role in his 11th NFL season, but Patterson, who played nickel corner last season, is a legitimate threat to wrestle the job away.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.