Editor’s note: This is the 11th installment of a 12-part series in which Browns beat writer Nate Ulrich analyzes players who will vie for starting jobs or other important roles during training camp, which opens to the public Thursday in Berea.
BATTLES OF BEREA: CORNERBACKS
Players to watch: Joe Haden (5-foot-11, 190 pounds, fourth year); Leon McFadden (5-9, 193, rookie); Chris Owens (5-9, 180, fifth year); and Buster Skrine (5-9, 185, third year).
2012 stats: Haden (11 starts in 11 games played — served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs — 51 tackles, three interceptions, 10 passes defensed, one force fumble); McFadden (with San Diego State — started all 13 games, 61 tackles, three interceptions, 12 passes defensed, one force fumble); Owens (with Atlanta Falcons — 13 games played, including one start, 17 tackles, four passes defensed, one force fumble); Skrine (16 games played, including six starts, 73 tackles, 11 passes defensed).
Analysis: This is the most intriguing position battle heading into camp. McFadden, Owens and Skrine will fight for two job openings — the starting cornerback spot opposite Haden and the role of the primary nickel corner. The Browns hope McFadden, a third-round pick in this year’s draft, can step up and start in his first professional season, but he’ll need to gain ground on his peers to accomplish that. Owens and Skrine rotated with the first-team defense throughout spring practices while McFadden spent time with the second unit. When the Browns used their nickel package, Skrine covered the slot receiver with Owens stationed on the outside. If Browns General Manager Mike Lombardi is right about McFadden’s talent, he should be able to break through that rotation with a strong camp and leave Owens and Skrine to scratch and claw for the nickel corner job. If it unfolds that way, last season suggests Owens, who signed with the Browns in March, will have a leg up. He allowed a passer rating of just 68.9 on balls thrown into his coverage, according to ProFootballFocus.com. On the other hand, Skrine committed nine defensive penalties and allowed a passer rating of 114.6 on balls thrown into his coverage, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Coming Thursday: Quarterbacks