Unit-by-Unit Analysis

Here's some thoughts from The Insiders (the network, not Bernie's guys) on the Browns depth chart and units. Each unit is examined in turn, with predictions on starters and backups...

Starter -- Tim Couch
Backups -- Kelly Holcomb, Josh Booty

Couch is the starter heading into camp by default only, for this training camp will feature the first true quarterback competition in Cleveland since the early 1980s. Holcomb earned a chance to win the job with his 429-yard game against Pittsburgh in the playoffs -- the third-best passing game in NFL playoff history. An injury gave Holcomb the chance, but Couch also has not exactly blossomed since being the first overall pick in the 1999 draft. The Browns hope that competition brings out the best in both.

Starter -- William Green
Backups -- Jamel White, James Jackson, Lee Suggs

Green averaged more than 100 yards per game the final seven games of the 2002 season and has a firm hold on the starting spot. His emergence brings great calm to the offense, which has needed a running back and running game since the Browns returned to the field in 1999. White, who signed a long-term deal in the offseason, will be used as a change-of-pace back and as a receiver out of the backfield. He will get plenty of touches; his talent demands it. James Jackson is the third back, but Lee Suggs is a wild card. Suggs has tremendous talent, but injuries dropped him to the fourth round of the draft, where the Browns picked him. He had arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder in the offseason, so it's not known if he'll be available for the season.

Starters -- TE Darnell Sanders, HB Steve Heiden
Backups -- Aaron Shea, R.J. Bowers

Sanders will be given the chance to win the tight end job in camp. Butch Davis loves his draft picks, and he really seems to like Sanders, who left Ohio State after his junior season. Heiden and Shea are serviceable players, but none bring the threat or impact the Browns hope Sanders can bring.

Starters -- Kevin Johnson, Quincy Morgan
Backups -- Andre Davis, Dennis Northcutt, Andre King, Frisman Jackson

The strength of the team. Johnson has established himself as a dependable threat, and Morgan quietly led the league in yards-per-catch in 2002. Davis had a strong rookie season, and Northcutt was nearly the team's MVP. He will be playing for a contract this season, too, as his original deal runs out after the season. Barring injury or calamity, the Browns are pretty well set here.

Starters -- LT Ross Verba, LG Barry Stokes, C Jeff Faine, RG Shaun O'Hara, RT Ryan Tucker
Backups -- Gs Melvin Fowler, Qasim Mitchell, Joaquin Gonzalez. Ts Chad Beasley, Paul Zukauskas

Faine was basically handed the starting center job after being taken in the first round of the April draft. The Browns like his attitude and his ability, but he'll have to prove he can make the jump from Notre Dame to the NFL. The Browns feel good about tackles Verba and Tucker, but hope that competition at guard improves the position. Mitchell, a man-mountain at 370 pounds, will challenge O'Hara, and Fowler, who moved from center, will challenge Stokes. Coaches would love to see Mitchell emerge, but he's a raw player who may be a year or two away.

Starters -- LE Kenard Lang, LT Gerard Warren, RT Orpheus Roye, RE Courtney Brown
Backups -- DEs Tyrone Rogers, Cedric Scott, Mark Word, DT Alvin McKinley

Two issues dominate this position -- the maturity (or lack thereof) of Warren, and the health of Brown. Warren caused a lot of waves in the locker room in the spring when he admitted he spent too much time partying his first two years. No problem there -- except he basically admitted he wasn't devoted to his team. That will have to change if he is to be the kind of player that Davis insists he can be. Brown has been an enigma since being taken first overall in 2000. He's shown moments of amazing ability, but missed half the games the last two seasons to injury. He now must come back from delicate microfracture surgery on his knee, and that's a great unknown. If Warren grows up and Brown regains his health, this group could be strong.

Starters -- SLB Ben Taylor, MLB Barry Gardner, WLB Kevin Bentley
Backups -- Andra Davis, Brant Boyer, Chaun Thompson

The most important questions the Browns must answer this offseason are who plays quarterback and who plays linebacker. These starters are listed in pencil only; competition in camp at all three spots will be fierce. Davis jettisoned four veterans from last season's team (Earl Holmes, Jamir Miller, Dwayne Rudd and Darren Hambrick) and went with youth. He says he'll be justified because this season's group is younger and more athletic than last year's. That may be true, but they must overcome a lack of experience if they are to succeed.

Starters -- CBs Daylon McCutcheon, Anthony Henry. Ss Robert Griffith, Earl Little
Backups -- Ss Michael Jameson, CBs Lewis Sanders, Michael Lehan, Chris Crocker

Henry must fill some big shoes as he takes over for Corey Fuller, another veteran released in a salary-cap purge in the offseason. Henry was stellar as a rookie, but struggled badly last season when he started 10 games. If he doesn't play like he did as a rookie, the release of Fuller will be a painful move -- especially given the Pro Bowl list of receivers the Browns face. Griffith will be asked to take on added leadership responsibilities this season. He struggled in his first year as a Brown, but Davis staunchly defended him in the offseason, then asked to take over leadership of the defense. It will be interesting to see how Griffith reacts to the challenge, and to the loss of several friends from last season's team.

PK Phil Dawson
Punters Chris Gardocki, Jay Taylor
LS Ryan Pontbriand

The Browns like their specialists, but their long snapper will have a ton of pressure on him. Pontbriand is taking the place of Ryan Kuehl, who was rock-solid and dependable. The fact that Pontbriand was drafted only increases the scrutiny; few teams expend a draft choice on a snapper. The Browns like Dawson and Gardocki, but it's not far-fetched to think Gardocki could be on the bubble. As good as he is, he's due to make more than a million dollars, and Taylor was sent to NFL Europe solely to work on his punting. If Taylor does well in preseason and Gardocki struggles, Davis might make a switch.

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