Early in the off-season, Phil Savage did not have to open his cupboard very far to find some empty shelves. Coming off a 4-12 season, the team had some upward potential, but critical pieces to the puzzle remained missing.
Free agent acquisitions have helped mold the foundation of the organization in recent years, while the college player draft is what Savage hopes will stabilize the roster and end years of turmoil and inconsistency for this once proud franchise.
With a few surprises and higher expectations required, this is how we see things evolving at this time:
QB – Unless something unexpected occurs, Charlie Frye could be set as the player holding down the fort, until the arrival of one Brady Quinn. If this theory holds true, Derek Anderson may be the odd man out, though numerous voices within the organization are pushing to hold on to Anderson due to his upside. Ken Dorsey is expected to make the roster and be the hired hand to mentor young Mr. Quinn, but if push comes to shove, a decision maker could blink and keep Anderson or Frye over Dorsey.
RB – Jamal Lewis and Jason Wright are in, Jerome Harrison and Chris Barclay remains closely knit in a battle for the number-three running back spot. Right now, Harrison is the man, but the team may look very hard at finding a reason to keep Barclay, as he is a weapon in the return game, on special teams, and is a patient runner which is tailor made for the Cleveland offense.
WR – Veteran receiver Tim Carter's injury and reliability struggles have cost him an opportunity to compete for the number-two receiver spot. The team likes Steve Sanders and Syndric Steptoe, which may make for some tough decisions this weekend. Due to the overall lack of experience at the position, Carter stands a good chance of making the roster, leaving one of the youngsters on the outside. Michael Mann is a long-shot at best to make the roster.
TE – Kellen Winslow and Steve Heiden are set. Veteran Darnell Dinkins and Ryan Krause are engaged in a battle for the number-three tight end role, with both players having completely contrasting abilities. Dinkins is marginal at best in the passing game, but is by far the better blocker of the two, while Krause is a good receiver and has a grasp of the Chudzinski offensive scheme. It's a tossup, but I like the way Krause has performed.
OL – Offensive guard Fred Matua is a player the team likes, due to his physical style of play and better-than-anticipated agility. He has been nursing an ankle and just might find his way onto the IR or practice squad, if he does not survive the cut. Rob Smith could end up being a capable center in the NFL, but the numbers game may be his undoing with the Browns. With guard Eric Steinbach on the mend, his replacement Lennie Friedman will continue to be his backup, and serve as a backup at center. Starting right guard Seth McKinney has experience at the center position and could serve in that role, if needed. Due to the versatility and numbers game, Smith is a long-shot to make the final roster.
At the beginning of camp, Kelly Butler was a strong candidate for the starting right tackle position. Since those days, Butler regressed a bit, his consistency has been an issue, and he is not on solid ground, especially with the coaching staff's decision to play Nat Dorsey at both positions. The suspension of Ryan Tucker helps Butler in the short-term, but the organization has to be looking at the overall state of his game, as he struggles against speed rushers. Butler's strength is definitely in the running game, where he can engulf an end or linebacker once engaged.
Isaac Sowells is another young lineman the team has high hopes for and he is showing some signs of coming around. The team continues to have high hopes for the second-year offensive guard, which makes him close to a lock to make the roster despite some struggles we've seen in camp.
Andrew Hoffman and Brent Pousson are in a precarious position, with Hoffman having the best chance of sticking. The talent and depth along the offensive line has improved greatly, making the odds difficult for these two players, though the staff believes Hoffman, a converted defensive lineman, has promise.
DL – Robaire Smith, Shaun Smith, Ted Washington, and Simon Frasier are in. Nose tackle Babatunde Oshinowo has practiced and played well over the past couple weeks and has earned a spot, while Ethan Kelley and J'Vonne Parker have done nothing to help solidify the Browns porous defensive front. Rookies Melila Purcell and Chase Pittman have performed as expected, with Purcell making more plays and being noticed on game-film. The numbers game could cost one of the rookies a roster spot, but with the unknown status of starting defensive end Orpheus Roye, an additional spot could be possible.
LB – Chaun Thompson, David McMillan, Mason Unck, Clifton Smith, and Kris Griffin could be battling for two roster spots. The injury to veteran Willie McGinest will take up a roster spot for a player not on the field. Thompson's versatility and special team's play should keep him on solid ground, while Griffin and McMillan remain the odds-on favorites, if the team goes with additional players at the position.
S – Not much here to note, Pool, Jones, Hamilton, and Adams make the roster.
CB – Kenny Wright, Jeremy LeSueur, Gary Baxter, Jereme Perry, DeMario Minter, Brandon McDonald could be battling for three roster openings. Wright, the veteran, was signed to provide experience and ability at the corner position while Perry is a holdover from the revolving door at the position last season and played reasonably well in the dime defense and special teams. Minter, a former draft selection has been injured for the majority of training camp, could be released. At this point, Minter and LaSueur could be released, with Kenny Wright and Brandon McDonald making the roster, while Gary Baxter is a IR candidate due to his knee issues. Jereme Perry is very capable and could be a player that could make the cut, if things fall into place for him.