Editor’s note: This is the sixth 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: FULLBACKS
Players to watch: Owen Marecic (6-foot, 245 pounds, third year); Chris Ogbonnaya (6-foot, 225, fourth year); and Brad Smelley (6-2, 235, first year).
2012 stats: Marecic (10 games played, including two starts); Ogbonnaya (15 games played, including one start, eight carries for 30 yards, 3.8 average, 24 catches for 187 yards, 7.8 average); Smelley (two games played, one catch for 3 yards).
Analysis: The most important question facing this position is whether new coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner believe they need a traditional fullback in their scheme. Marecic is the only pure fullback on the roster, but he didn’t practice with the first-team offense in spring practices, and the previous coaching staff benched him last season after he dropped all four passes thrown his way. Although Ogbonnaya is a true tailback, he received ample work with the first unit in two-back formations throughout organized team activities and minicamps. The new regime re-signed him this offseason because it likes the versatility and receiving ability he provides out of the backfield. Now he’s on track toward solidifying a role for himself. The Browns view Smelley as an H-back. He can line up at tight end or fullback, if needed, like Alex Smith, who replaced Marecic after he was demoted last season and later left the team via free agency. Both Ogbonnaya and Smelley impressed during OTAs and minicamps. Marecic, meanwhile, will enter camp in serious danger of losing his spot on the roster. Even if he proves himself as a lead blocker once the team starts practicing in pads, the coaching staff could ultimately choose a finesse, pass-catching back over a traditional fullback.
Coming Saturday: Tight ends