Fast Lane Mailbag: Skill Position Edition

Lane goes into what's happening at running back and tight end as the Browns head towards camp, with a focus on the running back and tight end positions.

Q: If the season started today, who would be the starting running back or is there a true capable starting running back on the roster? Nate S, North Olmsted, OH

Fast Lane: If the season were to start today, Terrance West would be the likely starter. The reasoning is West has a more consistent grasp of what the assignments are (i.e.: pass protection), he has made a concerted effort to “put a foot into the turf and go” and he is showing improved maturity.

This isn’t to say West has a grasp on the job. The truth will be told in training camp where Isaiah Crowell can show he is a better game-type talent than practice player and rookie Duke Johnson’s explosiveness will be something to watch.

People tend to overlook Johnson due to being a third-round draft selection. The young man is tough, runs hard, has tremendous quickness and can plant a foot and disappear.

The Browns offensive scheme has significant opportunities for the RBs to be involved in the passing game, something that is a considerable difference from the 2014 look.

As it stands, Johnson has displayed excellent receiving skills and understanding of this aspect, whereas West and Crowell are being brought along and not as fluid nor explosive to date.

Regardless of who wins the battle in training camp, the Browns offense is constructed to run the ball and utilize the RBs in ways other than simply rushing. We will see RBs split wide, in motion, etc.

This training camp battle may be the one to watch.

Q: I know the Browns have signed former quarterback turned wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. Do you believe Pryor has a snowball’s chance in hell of making this team and becoming a viable receiver at the professional level? Also, who do you see making the team at the wide receiver position? Lawrence S, Ottawa, Ontario

Fast Lane: I’d be lying if I didn’t say I am intrigued with Pryor’s size, speed and athleticism. In the same thought, I would be lying if I didn’t say he hasn’t played the position on a scale readying him for the pro-game and can’t be anything other than a major project.

I find it interesting the Browns would bring him in knowing the project he appears to be. He isn’t shown the ability to be a special teams contributor and he hasn’t made it as a QB.

I suppose the intrigue is in seeing what Pryor can do. Will he flash in a manner which will make the staff (Joker Phillips - WR coach) think they can get positive results? Can they determine if he a true, sustainable receiver prospect?

At worst, the Browns are spending a little money and time on the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle — somewhat like what the Cleveland Indians do every year.

As for the receivers I anticipate making the final roster, I see Bowe, Hartline, Hawkins, Gabriel, Benjamin, Mayle and possibly Moore - dependent on whether he is the kickoff returner or they fill they role elsewhere.

Q: Not much has been said about the Browns tight-end position. Since losing Jordan Cameron to Miami in free agency, the Browns failed to land a top-notch receiving tight-end. Isn’t this a necessity in what I heard is a modified West Coast offensive scheme in Cleveland. Nathan W, Willoughby, OH

Fast Lane: The Browns entered the off-season with some interest in Charles Clay (Buffalo), a free agent from Miami. The Bills were all over Clay from the onset and were willing to offer him an unbelievable contract. I liked the talent, but not the contract.

Outside of Julius Thomas (Jacksonville) and Cameron (Miami), the free agent class of 2015 at the position was relatively mediocre.

Jermaine Gresham required surgery on his back and Rob Housler wasn’t in a hurry to decide where he was going — ultimately landing with the Browns.

In Housler, the Browns see an athletic player who has the opportunity to excel in this intermediate passing scheme, with the ability to get down the seam and make plays.

The issue for Housler has been his hands — he has dropped too many passes in his early pro-career while a member of the Arizona Cardinals, which is why his playing time became limited under head coach Bruce Arians.

Houser has looked the part in OTA sessions… let’s see where he is when the pads go on and there is some hitting involved.


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