Editor’s note: This is the seventh 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: TIGHT ENDS
Players to watch: Gary Barnidge (6-foot-5, 250 pounds, sixth year); Jordan Cameron (6-5, 245, third year); Kellen Davis (6-7, 265, sixth year); Dan Gronkowski (6-5, 255, third year); and Brad Smelley (6-2, 235, first year).
2012 stats: Barnidge (with Carolina Panthers — 16 games played, including five starts, six catches for 78 yards and one touchdown); Cameron (14 games played, including six starts, 20 catches for 226 yards and one touchdown); Davis (with Chicago Bears — 16 games played, including 15 starts, 19 catches for 229 yards and two touchdowns); Gronkowski (did not play last season); Smelley (two games played, one catch for 3 yards).
Analysis: The Browns have identified Cameron as their projected starter, which means he should have a breakout season because new coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner love to prominently feature tight ends. The key for Cameron, though, will be staying on the field. Cameron missed part of organized team activities and mandatory minicamp with groin and hamstring injuries. He missed the final two games of the 2012 season with a concussion. In other words, questions about his durability make the competition for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart worth watching. Davis’ experience as a full-time starter the past two seasons for the Bears suggests he is the leading candidate to become Cameron’s primary backup, but he also dropped eight passes last year, according to ProFootballFocus.com. Barnidge, on the other hand, was one of the most pleasant surprises during spring practices. He displayed impressive receiving skills and made a serious case for himself as the No. 2 tight end, earning reps with Cameron and the first-team offense in double-tight end sets. Like Davis, Barnidge signed with the Browns in March. But Barnidge has the advantage of having played for Chudzinski last season while the latter served as the offensive coordinator of the Panthers. As Davis and Barnidge square off, Gronkowski and Smelley will be left to fight for a roster spot.
Coming Sunday: Running backs