The Cleveland Browns had one of the biggest offseason in team history bringing in quality veterans and having a fantastic draft class. Johnny Manziel has already become a sensation in Cleveland and has brought national media attention to the Browns. But if we put aside all of the media, the team still needs to show that they can win games. With OTA’s starting up, this offseason will have more competition for different positions than in the past. Let’s look at the offensive side of the ball at the different position battles.
Yes, the Cleveland Browns have an issue with the quarterback position. It seems that every year there is a competition between a veteran and a rookie to take over control of the offense. The story isn’t changing much with the national media already highlighting the Manziel vs. Brian Hoyer battle:
· Hoyer has a bit more experience and the backing of coaches on the team saying Manziel is the backup, but at what point do the old tricks come out and Manziel is on the field? I think that Hoyer will start the season barring any injury during the preseason, but it is his job to lose.
· Manziel has been the biggest thing to Cleveland since Lebron James. Johnny Football has to prove to be a quality starter and consistently play better than Hoyer. Johnny will get his chances to develop from the bottom up, which is something that Browns’ rookies in the past have not had.
· Conner Shaw doesn’t have a shot of winning the starting or backup position, but will have to compete with Tyler Thigpen for the third string quarterback job. Do the Browns go with experience in Thigpen or a Manziel prototype in Connor Shaw?
The Browns went out and got a quality runner in Ben Tate. Tate is by far the best option they have after trading away Trent Richardson and using Willis McGahee last season. The real battle at running back will be for the backup role. Tate won’t be able to do it all on his own and needs a bigger back on small yardage plays and to also give him a breather in a series. The Browns added two rookies to compete with two veterans for this role.
· Edwin Baker had an exciting finish to last year’s season. Baker played in 3 games and had 171 yards and 3 touchdowns during the 2013 season, but that was with one of the weakest running games in the NFL.
· Dion Lewis is another option the Browns have. Lewis broke his leg last year in preseason but is another speedy back. I see Lewis losing more roles with the addition of Tate instead of gaining any.
· Terrence West may be the answer to the role behind Tate. West has the size (5’11”, 223 lbs.) and speed (4.54 40 yard dash) to become the back the Browns need to step up into a complimentary role for Tate. West was selected in the 3rd round of the 2014 Draft and broke rushing records in the FCS last season.
· Isaiah Crowell is another rookie looking to make his name known. After a tremendous rookie year at Georgia, Crowell was dismissed from the team and landed at Alabama State. He too has the size (5’11”, 224lbs.) and speed (4.53), so it will come down to who can be more elusive between him and West.
With the impending suspension of Josh Gordon, the Browns have looked to stock up on free agent veterans instead of drafting one. The Browns have added Miles Austin, Earl Bennett, Nate Burleson, and Andrew Hawkins to get the job done without the Pro Bowl receiver Gordon. Depending on the length of the suspension, the Browns will either have a decent wide out corps, or could be fielding the worst in the league. There won’t be a huge battle but here is a look at the Browns wide outs:
· Miles Austin: Austin is almost 30 years old and has been plagued by injuries (hamstring), but he is a two time Pro Bowl receiver in his career.
· Earl Bennett: Bennett is a decent receiver and will look to win a starting role on the team. Bennett played in Chicago, so he is used to the terrible weather that Cleveland will get during the later part of the year.
· Nate Burleson: The 32 years old veteran is in more of a mentor role now. Burleson recently rebroke his arm and is out until the beginning minicamp. He has played with Calvin Johnson and has watched him progress into one of the most elite receivers in the league.
· Andrew Hawkins: Hawkins has four years of experience but not many receptions while in Cincinnati. He could fall into the slot position and make a quick impact.
· Travis Benjamin: Benjamin is a speedster coming off a terrible ACL injury. He may not take punt returns at first and hopefully is able to step up at wide out.
· Rookies: Kenny Shaw (FSU), Willie Snead (Ball State), Jonathan Krause (Vanderbilt), Chandler Jones (San Jose State), and Taylor Gabriel (Abilene Christian).
The offensive line is another area that the Browns will look at this off season. With some big additions such as Paul McQuistan from the Seattle Seahawks and Joel Bitonio out of the draft, the Browns are looking to beef up their line to allow Ben Tate to run the ball and give time for either Hoyer or Manziel to throw. Here is a look at the possible line that could be formed if Bitonio starts at guard.
LT: Joe Thomas-A Pro Bowl tackle that will be an offensive captain and help anchor the line.
LG: Bitonio- Reports are that the Browns have had Bitinio lined up at left guard with the starters so far in OTA’s.
C: Alex Mack- A Pro Bowl center and was brought back after being slapped with the transition tag during the offseason.
RG: Mitchell Schwartz- Schwartz will move to guard after the addition of Paul McQuistan. Look for a tough competition here with former starter John Greco as well.
RT: Paul McQuistan- McQuistan was brought to Cleveland to improve the line and look for him to be an instant impact.
No real big competition here as Jordan Cameron is coming off a Pro Bowl year. Cameron is going to have another great year in a new offense and will have back ups in Barnidge and Gray. Kyle Shanahan’s offense will make sure that Cameron will get a lot of targets and offensive snaps like the earlier part of 2013 season. The big issue for Cameron will be who will be the quarterback. Cameron struggled with having multiple quarterbacks last year and needs consistency to be able to produce big numbers and free up the running game.
The Browns have kept the fans excited for the upcoming year and that is going to start with the preseason. The Browns’ front office has gone out and got the players that will make the season exciting and season ticket numbers have gone up tremendously. Minicamp and the preseason games will give fans the ability to see these position battles play out and changes made at First Energy Stadium. Regardless of the winners, the Browns’ offense will look to be better than it has been in a long time.