The Cleveland Browns off-season is essentially over. With the start of Training Camp, which we gave the countdown to, and more, earlier today, the Browns are officially in season. Yet it is good to look back and see who benefited the most from this off-season. Obviously rookies show the most improvement as they learn their playbooks and get a better idea of what the NFL is all about. The Browns official website listed 5 non-rookies that benefited from this off-season as well. We will look at each and give our thoughts on what it could mean for the upcoming season:
Jordan Cameron – The Pro Bowler was impossible to cover in the spring. Maybe it’s just mundane OTAs and minicamp. Or maybe Cameron, 25, is still improving as a dual-threat receiver who can line up anywhere; a scary thought. Last season the Browns targeted Cameron 117 times. Only Jimmy Graham and Tony Gonzalez saw more passes slung their way. Comparing the film, the 6-foot-5, 249-pound Cameron has shown improved foot work and explosion in the open field once he has the football.
A scary thought for opposing defenses that Cameron has improved greatly this off-season. The biggest thing for Cameron will be the general comfort level he feels on the field. In any sport the more time you are in it, and for Cameron basketball was his primary sport for year, the more you instinctively know what to do. Less thinking, more reacting. Kyle Shanahan’s offense also has a history of making the tight end one of the 2 primary targets most often. Expect huge things from Cameron, and an effort to get him signed during Training Camp or early into the season before he hits the market next Spring.
MarQueis Gray – The Browns feel strongly about the versatility Gray possesses as a blocker, pass catcher and even a decoy in certain formations. Gray has taken on an expanded role in the classroom, double dipping with the tight ends and fullback coaches. Mike Pettine wouldn’t trust any player for such an increase in workload.
Gray is such a unique player. Coming out of college as a quarterback last year he was most often used as a wildcat threat. His versatility will make him a huge contributor in Shanahan’s sets as he likes to create mismatches. Expect Gray to fulfill a similar role as old Redskin Mike Sellers. Having Gray as the primary full back will allow the Browns to have more receivers on the field at once, instead of a limited player at FB. Gray also has the size and strength to be a good lead blocker.
John Greco – He’s keeping it quiet how much weight he’s lost, but Greco looks like he’s in the best shape of his career. Kyle Shanahan wants his interior offensive lineman to have a quick burst and to be able to hit zone blocks — almost as if they are tight ends. That shouldn’t be a problem for the 29-year-old Greco.
Greco is in a very unique situation. He was giving a contract extension by the old regime and is now on his 3rd coach in 3 years in Cleveland. Joel Bitonio was drafted in the second round and is currently scheduled to start at Greco’s old left guard position. Bitonio’s ankle injury during the off-season could put Greco back on the left. If not he is in competition with a few players at the right guard spot. Getting in shape to run the zone blocking scheme will be huge for him. The depth on the offensive line will be much appreciated by fans as they watched a number of players ill suited to be starting lining up at right guard last 2 years.
Billy Winn – Perhaps nobody has improved more in the 2014 offseason than Billy Winn. Early in OTAs the defensive lineman knew exactly where to position himself as a run stuffer and was even more effective when chasing quarterbacks all around the pocket. This defensive system is comparable to organized chaos, which seems to suit Winn. His progression is screaming for more reps and the preseason will be the perfect place to measure how much the bubbly 300-pounder has developed.
Winn’s big off-season is a huge thing for the Browns. With Mike Pettine’s hybrid system he needs players that can in multiple fronts and Winn is one of those players. He can move inside on an even front and stay outside on an odd. The ability to rush the passer and stop the run could make Ahtyba Rubin’s stay with the new staff short, his contract runs out at the end of the year. Winn, Phil Taylor, Desmond Bryant and John Hughes will provide a stout front 3 or 4 for the Browns. Could Winn steal a starting job?
TaShaun Gipson – Gipson’s biggest benefit this offseason? It’s easily the arrival of Donte Whitner. The third-year pro from Wyoming now has a coach on the field in his Pro Bowl counterpart at strong safety. It’s apparent from watching practices the two already have quite a nonverbal communication chemistry that could give quarterbacks and receivers fits. Whitner has said multiple times it’s a goal of his to get Gipson to the Pro Bowl, or at least proper recognition around the league. Gipson, who had five interceptions in 2013, has the potential to live up to Whitner’s lofty expectations.
Gipson has been the most interesting player at some level for us. We know that the Pettine system highly values the free safety position yet heard very little, after the Jarius Byrd signing with the Saints, about the Browns going after another FS. yet Gipson hasn’t been talked about, mentioned or given much attention all off-season. Could it be that Pettine wants to keep Gipson’s improvement a secret? Or does Pierre Desir or someone else on the roster have a chance to over take him? Whoever plays the FS spot should have a huge year.
Who are you hoping has a great Training Camp to join this list in August?