BEREA, Ohio--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.
Although they won't admit it, the Browns are in midst of a rebuild after the disappointing 3-13 finish in 2015 that led to the ouster of the Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine regime and to the new regime of Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson.
The OBR takes a close look and suggests the five most anticipated battles for tops on the depth chart (with a couple of bonus battles, as well).
1. Quarterback-- Robert Griffin III vs. Josh McCown--Jackson has been very guarded in his attempts to not name Griffin III the starting quarterback, but most who follow the Browns feel that is what Jackson is hoping happens. Griffin is trying to re-boot his career with the Browns after not taking a snap last season for the Redskins and if he can come out of the preseason without a major breakdown, he will be the likely starter in the season opener.
However, McCown has been a steady influence on the field and in the locker room. His 93.3 rating was by far the best on the roster last season with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. Many of the observers watching off-season OTA's and minicamps this spring felt McCown was the best quarterback on the field.
Dark Horse Candidate: Cody Kessler was drafted higher than most projected by being selected in the third-round, but Jackson really likes him. It would be a major upset if Kessler played so well in the preseason that he came out of training camp as the starting quarterback. However, Russell Wilson did so after being a third-round pick a few years ago with the Seahawks after Seattle spent big money to sign free agent quarterback Matt Flynn to battle veteran Tavaris Jackson in a similar scenario.
If Kessler plays well but is unable to beat out Griffin III or McCown for the starting job, Jackson might decide to keep just two quarterbacks or keep Austin Davis and McCown could be traded during the preseason.
2. Wide Receiver-- Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis, Jordan Payton and Rashard Higgins vs. Taylor Gabriel, Andrew Hawkins, Darius Jennings, Marlon Moore and Terrelle Pryor--The Browns decided to overhaul their receiving corps by drafting four wide receivers. Conventional wisdom says the four drafted receivers make the team, that leaves only a couple of roster spots available as most teams usually keep five to six or maybe seven wide receivers. Pryor is only a year removed from transitioning to receiver from quarterback and Jackson likes the versatility that Pryor brings to the team. Many believe he will be used as Mohamed Sanu was used by Jackson with the Bengals. He also could be used as the emergency or third quarterback to save a roster spot. Hawkins is a good slot receiver, who has a history with Jackson and would appear to be in the rotation.
Coleman will likely be one of the starting receivers with the battle among the others for the other outside position with Hawkins in the slot and Pryor in key situations.
Dark Horse Candidates: Gabriel, Jennings and Moore. Gabriel has played two seasons with the Browns after making the team as an undrafted free agent, but there was a reason the new regime drafted so many receivers. Jennings played well in his opportunity last season and Moore has been a core special teams player and a solid receiver.
3. Right Tackle--Alvin Bailey vs. Shon Coleman and Spencer Drango-- The Browns are trying to fill a big hole that was created when Mitchell Schwartz left in free agency after never missing a snap for the Browns. Bailey was brought in as an unrestricted free agent to either start or be flexible enough to step in at a number of positions on the line. Coleman was drafted in the third-round to contend for the starting right tackle position, but Coleman missed the OTA's and minicamps coming off a surgery to his MCL. Drango was impressive in the off-season and could be in the mix at right tackle or guard.
Dark Horse Candidates: Austin Pasztor stepped in and played the final four games in 2015 at left guard, while Michael Bowie was expected to battle for the position last year before having shoulder surgery and spending the season on injured reserve.
4. Defensive End--John Hughes, Armonty Bryant vs. Xavier Cooper and Carl Nassib--Both of last year's starting defensive ends are gone as training camp begins as Randy Starks was released and Desmond Bryant had surgery last week to repair a torn pectoral muscle suffered in training. Hughes will likely be one of the ends but Cooper and Nassib will battle on the other side. Cooper was a third-round draft pick last season, while Nassib was a third-round pick this year. Nassib led the nation in sacks at Penn State last season and if he can make the transition to the NFL quickly, he will have a chance to earn playing time. Armonty Bryant is facing a four-game suspension by the NFL to start the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy, which could severely hurt his chances to contribute.
Dark Horse Candidate: Dylan Wynn was on the Browns practice squad but has shown some promise and with the injury to Bryant, could vie for playing time.
5. Center-- Cameron Erving vs. Garth Gerhart--Similar to the hole left with the departure of Schwartz, Alex Mack's departure also creates a big hole. Erving was drafted in the first round of 2015 in case Mack departed. Erving didn't make a great first impression and started four games, two at each guard position. Erving was drafted as a center, but the Browns coaching staff tried to get him to play multiple positions on the line and he didn't take any snaps at center in games. If Erving isn't able to handle the center position, his primary rivals have little experience, as well. Gerhart has been on the practice squad.
If the Browns decide that Erving or Gerhart aren't ready, veteran John Greco could be shifted over to the center spot.
Dark Horse Candidate: Mike Matthews is an undrafted rookie who has the pedigree with his father, Bruce a member of the Hall of Fame and his uncle, Clay a Browns legend.
Running Back--Duke Johnson, Jr. vs. Isaiah Crowell--It is likely that Johnson, Jr. will emerge as the featured running back, but it is unclear if he will be the every down back. Jackson used Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard with the Bengals and with his propensity to run the ball, will likely employ at least two backs. Crowell has been trying very hard to overcome his horrendous post on social media earlier this month and it is unclear if the Browns will keep him or let him go.
Dark Horse Candidate: Terrell Watson, who was brought to the Browns from Cincinnati by Jackson after he spent a year on the Bengals practice squad. Watson rushed for over 2,000 yards in his final season at Azusa Pacific and could be the big back (240) to complement Johnson, Jr.
Edge Rusher--Emmanuel Ogbah vs. Nate Orchard--The Browns used a second-round pick on Ogbah and are hoping he can make the switch from a down lineman to an outside edge pass rusher. Orchard was brought in last year for the same reason and showed promise at the end of the season. Most are assuming Paul Kruger will be on the opposite side and the Browns are hoping Kruger can return to the form he displayed in 2014 when he had a career-best 11 sacks.
Dark Horse Candidate: Barkevious Mingo was drafted sixth-overall to be the edge rusher in pass situations but hasn't been used much in that role. Ray Horton said he was going to be creative in using Mingo and it will be interesting to see if he can live up to his draft status in the final year of his contract.