Every season as training camp opens around the NFL, there are highly anticipated battles for starting positions. It is no different for the Browns.
However, with the specialization that takes place in today’s NFL many times the “starter” is just listed first on the depth chart, but the other players rotate in and play about as much as the starters do.
The OBR takes a close look and suggests the five most anticipated battles for tops on the depth chart.
1.Right guard Cameron Erving vs. John Greco — The Browns used a first round pick on Erving and Mike Pettine said Erving starts training camp at right guard. It makes the most sense that Erving will start his NFL career at guard, similarly to how Joel Bitonio was placed between Pro Bowlers Alex Mack and Joe Thomas. Erving will have Mack on his left and likely veteran Mitchell Schwartz on his right.
The Browns used a higher draft pick on Erving than they did on Bitonio and it is highly unlikely Erving was drafted just to be insurance if Mack leaves next season. Greco is a good player and if he proves to be superior to Erving at guard, Erving could displace Schwartz at right tackle. The upside with Greco not starting is he would be the top back up on the line should injury befall the starters. When Mack was injured last year, the Browns suffered because the replacements were a significant drop off to the starters.
2.Running back—Duke Johnson vs. Terrance West & Isaiah Crowell — Johnson is the hot new back in town going up against the duo of West and Crowell, who are coming off solid rookie seasons. The all-time leading rusher at the University of Miami is expected to be the Browns third down back but could be the team’s feature back as well. West and Crowell should be better with a season under their belt and it very well could be a fantasy football player’s worst nightmare — running back by committee.
3. Nose tackle Danny Shelton vs. Phil Taylor — The Browns used their top pick in the draft to grab Shelton to upgrade their rushing defense. Taylor is coming off knee surgery and is also in the last year of his contract. It is assumed that Shelton will primarily play in the middle, while Taylor is expected to stay inside, as well.
4. Cornerback Tramon Williams vs. Justin Gilbert — Williams was the Browns top unrestricted free agent signing in the off-season and the former Pro Bowler with the Packers is expected to open the season opposite Joe Haden at cornerback.
The Browns wanted to take all the pressure off of Gilbert, but quietly they are hoping that Gilbert plays so well the coaches cannot keep him off the field. In Pettine’s defensive scheme, the Browns employ three cornerbacks many times and could find playing time for both Williams and Gilbert.
5. Quarterback Josh McCown vs. Johnny Manziel — You didn’t think we could ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room did you? Despite all indications that McCown will be the opening day starting quarterback, everyone will be watching intensely every practice snap, every pass thrown to see if Manziel has made up any ground on McCown since minicamp.
Even though the Browns have taken every possible opportunity to keep the pressure off of Manziel (or McCown) by saying there is no open quarterback competition, the door at quarterback was left open by offensive coordinator John DeFilippo during minicamp. If Manziel plays well in the preseason, the quarterback position will be a hot topic of conversation all training camp — as it always is.
(We know it was a Top 5 list, but felt we needed to include several other intriguing matchups)
Outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo vs. Nate Orchard — Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil made it clear that Mingo would have to earn his playing time in training camp. Healthy again, Mingo needs to get to the passer, which is what he was drafted to do. Orchard was selected in the second round for exactly the same reason after leading the nation in sacks per game last year with 18.5 at Utah.
Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz vs. Michael Bowie — The coaches have continually praised the play of Schwartz, but Bowie was claimed last year in the final cuts from the Seahawks after he was lost for the season with a shoulder injury. The Browns feel Bowie could push for playing time at right tackle after starting eight games for the Seahawks in his rookie season on the Seahawks trek to a Super Bowl win.
Inside linebacker Craig Robertson vs. Chris Kirksey — Robertson is coming off a productive season that rewarded him with a second-round tender and a $2.5 million contract for this season. Kirksey is expected to be even more productive in his second season.
Kicker–Carey Spear vs. Travis Coons — As training camp begins, the Browns have two kickers with no NFL experience battling for the kicking duties. After the kicking duties being the least of the Browns worries since 1999, with Phil Dawson kicking for 14 seasons, Billy Cundiff took over in 2012 until he struggled last year. Garrett Hartley was brought in to finish the season but was released in the off-season.
Spear is from Mayfield Heights and played collegiately at Vanderbilt. Likewise, Coons was the kicker at Washington. Spear was with the Eagles in the preseason of 2014, while Coons was with the Titans last season, but neither made the roster.
The Browns hope one of the two emerges and is able to handle the job, but if both struggle, they likely will look to the waiver wire to bring in a veteran kicker for the regular season.