Ryan Tucker was the odds-on starter at right guard until fracturing a hip in drills during the OTA's. While the club anticipates Tucker's return for training camp in August, there is a cautiously optimistic approach being taken for his return and how long it will take for the veteran to return to form. The off-season signing of Rex Hadnot could prove to be a significant acquisition in retaining stability along the offensive line.
A veteran with starting experience, Hadnot provides strength in the run-blocking scheme and adequacy as a pass blocker in the event Tucker does not return to form. During the OTA sessions, the offensive line appeared stable with Hadnot fitting right in, but we need to wait until the pads go on and the actual work begins to better gauge any changes.
McKinney, the former starter at RG, is coming off injury and could compete with Tucker and Hadnot at some point. Throughout the OTA's, McKinney was the backup to Hank Fraley at center. Injury issues have riddled this veteran lineman in the past and at this time he provides depth for the team.
Nathan Bennett is a rookie that has caught the eye of the coaching staff during the rookie camp and OTA's. Bennett has a toughness about him, and his technique and recognition improved as the practice sessions progressed. Once a very long-shot to make an impact, Bennett could ultimately surprise and earn a depth role if he can continue to show the same improvement over the summer as he has in the spring workout sessions.
Kevin Shaffer moved from left tackle to right tackle last year in training camp and played well in the 2007 season. As a lineman, Shaffer is a tweener: he's not a mauler and not a finesse player. Shaffer's efficiency improved as the season progressed and displayed the ability to be a mainstay on the right-side of the Cleveland offensive line. Throughout the OTA sessions, Shaffer was solid and has grown into the RT position.
Depth at the RT position is precarious, as the Tucker injury strips versatility from this unit. Tucker served not only as starter at right guard, but was also the backup for Shaffer at RT. Shaffer, likewise, was the starting right tackle and the first backup for starting left tackle Joe Thomas. Due to the injury issues, Isaac Sowells has shifed from his career-long position at guard and relied on his experience former tackle in college. Sowells has had mixed results early, but improved significantly over the final two weeks of practice sessions. Sowells demonstrated good footwork, punch and a little nasty streak. Depth at this position is a legitimate concern at this time until there is a better read on Sowells - particularly if Tucker does not return to form.
Joe Thomas may arguably become the best offensive left tackle in the game. He is solid, a great technician and is rarely out of position. During the OTA sessions, which is basically a look based on speed and quickness, Thomas had absolutely no problems with the opposition in practice.
Cliff Louis has the advantage of being in the system for a year, and looks better than the player we first viewed last year. This young player is in a battle for a spot on the roster this year with rookie James Lee, who has come into practice sessions and caught the attention of the staff.
Lee appeared overmatched in early camp sessions, his technique was sloppy. He showed poor timing between the feet and upper body and he lacked punch at the point of attack. Over the final couple weeks worth of practice sessions, Lee got himself time, took to the hands-on coaching and made quite an impression, handling the backup role well. From watching Lee, every indication is this young player is quite athletic and making the transition from the college to pro game at a practice level. This is a talented young lineman that should only get better if he really wants it.
D'Qwell Jackson is solid at ILB and the expectations are high for this athletic backer. Jackson impressed in OTA's and could thrive in a system with legitimate quality and depth along the defensive line. In Jackson, the Browns have a LB that flows to the ball extremely well and will be productive if the defensive line holds up its end of the deal.
Davis has been the established starter for many seasons and could be on the verge of seeing a changing of the guard in his spot. The ILB role alongside Jackson has been questionable in recent years, and Williams and Bell are expected to push the veteran. In some cases, Williams could be the penciled in as the starter heading into training camp. Davis comes to camp lighter, which should improve his quickness, and he will also benefit from the off-season additions of defensive linemen Corey Williams and Shaun Rogers.
Leon Williams has the physical tools (size, quickness) to make an impact at the position and at times has been effective. Williams has struggled with consistency when he's received significant playing time. Throughout his early career, Williams has been more productive against the run than the pass.
Shantee Orr is an OLB by trade, but has seen some time at WLB during practice sessions. He remains primarily an OLB, behind Kamerion Wimbley on the depth chart. What makes Orr's work at WLB interesting is the interest the staff has in wanting to get 'players' on the field, and that puts Orr squarely in the mix. In the OTA sessions, Orr displayed quickness and a desire to get after the action. When the pads go on, Orr could expand beyond his reputation as a pass rush specialist and special teams type contributor and wind up in a role of greater significance.
Bell enters the fray as a rookie from UNLV with the reputation as a 'hitter' from the LB position, a facet this Cleveland defense has long been missing. While Bell looks very good on tape out of college, he is now getting to meet a higher level of expectations in the pro game. Presently, Bell appears a little stiff and hasn't really been able to take advantage of his skill set in the non-contact activities. He is also in the process of learning the system. The recent additions along the defensive line should provide this rookie an advantage of playing in a system of talent to protect him, while providing the opportunity for him to achieve at what he does best - attack the ball-carrier. Heading into his rookie season, Bell will struggle against the pass.