Dec. 18, 2011; Glendale, AZ, USA; Helmets sit on the field as Cleveland Browns players stretch prior to the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Browns 20-17 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
The Browns have announced the cuts they needed to get down to 53 and technically are ready to go for week 1 against the Miami Dolphins, but they are not done making moves. Still, here are your 2013 Cleveland Browns for about the next 24 hours or so.
Quarterbacks – Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer
Running Backs – Trent Richardson, Brandon Jackson, Chris Ogbannaya
Ogbannaya is technically the team’s fullback, so the Browns only have a pair of half backs. If people want to count Brad Smelley in that group, they can, but he will see time as a tight end before he does as a fullback.
Clearly, the Browns are hoping to find better talent on the waiver wire. They could end up putting Jamaine Cook or perhaps Miquel Maysonet on the practice squad. It is not impossible they could end up bringing back Cook if they cannot find someone they like. One name that could come up is Dennis Johnson. He was that type of receiving option back who was one of a group of undrafted rookies in Houston’s training camp. The former Razorback showed talent but had struggles holding onto the ball which could scare the Browns and other teams off from taking him. Another under the radar type player is Bobby Rainey who was let loose by the Baltimore Ravens. Not only does he have potential insight for the week two opponent but he has shown potential there.
Wide Receivers – Josh Gordon, Greg Little, Davone Bess, Travis Benjamin, Josh Cooper
In the end, Weeden’s former college teammate, Cooper survived to be the fifth receiver at least for the time being. The Browns receivers as a group look pretty solid until Gordon is not there due to the suspension, which does mean he is not counted against the roster and actually gives them an extra bit of flexibility. That is going to be a huge key the first two weeks of the season. It is unclear if the Browns are still looking for another receiver but the Seattle Seahawks waived their fourth round pick, Chris Harper. He fits what the Browns want as a big, strong kid at 6’1” 234lbs. Gurley was 230lbs but much taller and yolked up. Harper is a wide receiver in a tight end’s body. The Browns may stick with Cooper because they need someone who can play right now in these first two weeks but there should be a huge number of waiver claims in for Harper.
Tight Ends – Jordan Cameron, Gary Barnidge, Kellen Davis, Brad Smelley – Cameron has showed flashes but it is unclear if he is legitimately the guy the Browns need him to be or Evan Moore again. If he is good, the Browns are in much better shape but the position is still thin. If he struggles, the position is in danger of being a disaster. Davis was not good in the preseason and it is difficult to imagine they will keep him if a better option becomes available. One player that I was extremely high on headed into the draft was Ryan Otten who was let go by Jacksonville. He was a tremendous weapon at San Jose State as a receiving threat who needed to continue getting stronger to aid his good technique as a blocker. Between having a great tight end coach in Jon Embree and coaches who really value the position, a young player like Otten could potentially blossom here.
Offensive Line – Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, John Greco, Jason Pinkston, Shawn Lauvao, Garrett Gilkey, Oniel Cousins, Caylin Hauptmann, Martin Wallace, Rashad Butler, Jarrod Shaw
Yes, the Browns currently have 12 offensive linemen. The issues at guard make it understandable they would keep an extra or two, but this is a remarkable turn of events. It might be a prudent move, however. As Brendan Leister of draftbrowns.com has pointed on multiple occasions, the state of the backup offensive linemen in the NFL is pretty putrid right now. So, if the Browns release someone they really want to keep, they may not be able to sign them back later. It also might be a move to try to induce a trade from someone. There are a number of teams that are really hurting for depth because of injuries or they are just thin, so that could develop into something. If not, they will obviously have to dump a few of them for help at other spots.
One player that was released that should be extremely popular among teams is Fernando Velasco formerly of the Tennessee Titans. Velasco was a cost cutting move for the Titans and Velasco appears capable of stepping in and starting at center for a number of teams. The Browns could put in a waiver claim just to grab additional along the line as Velasco is still just 28 years old, but he could also be grabbed to be used as trade bait. Outside of Velasco, the pickings look to be extremely thin. One intriguing option as a developmental swing tackle might be Reid Fragel, the rookie out of Ohio State, who was let go by the Cincinnati Bengals. Fragel was extremely light on his feet after making the conversion to left tackle from tight end. Conceivably, if they like him, he could sit and develop behind Thomas and Schwartz, get bigger and stronger, provide depth and eventually be a nice asset. The Browns might like Wallace for that same role who did improve over the course of the preseason.
Defensive Line – Phil Taylor, Desmond Bryant, Athyba Rubin, Billy Winn, John Hughes, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Armonty Bryant
Other than outside linebacker, this is the biggest source of strength and depth on the team. They just keep coming and they can use them in so many different looks. It is a shame the Browns had to cut Brian Sanford (who will probably end up in Seattle after they cut Sealver Siliga, the guy they obtained in the trade with the Denver Broncos for John Moffitt after the trade with the Browns was nixed) without getting anything for him, but it is good news that the Browns were in a position where they had to cut strength as opposed to hoping for someone they keep to be a surprise.
Outside Linebackers – Jabaal Sheard, Paul Kruger, Barkevious Mingo, Quentin Groves, Paul Hazel
The top four rushers are extremely talented for this defense and the top three should be impact players. If your reaction to the name Paul Hazel was “Who?!?” You are not alone. The Browns grabbed him off of waivers right before the preseason game with the Chicago Bears and he got a small amount of playing time before leaving with an injury. He is extremely athletic as a former basketball player in addition to playing linebacker at Western Michigan, but it is unclear what plans the Browns have for him. It is worth noting that they liked him better than Justin Cole, who they let go and who did make some splash plays in preseason.
Inside Linebackers – D’Qwell Jackson, Craig Robertson, L.J. Fort, Tank Carder, Eric Martin
Jackson is a consummate pro and a big presence in the middle of the defense both as a good player and as a vocal leader, but outside of their ability to be great on special teams, the rest of this group seems a little shaky. Hopefully, Robertson is indeed the ace in the hole that Ray Horton suggested and he has been effective when he is free to attack. Eric Martin was brought in this week after being claimed from the New Orleans Saints, where he saw almost no time in preseason. They opted to keep Martin over James-Michael Johnson, who was a fourth round pick last year. This front office does not seem thrilled with the late round draft picks from last year, but they love the undrafted rookies they were able to get. Robertson, Fort, and Carder were all acquired in that manner in addition to Tashaun Gipson. Bruce Taylor was let go by the Bengals and might fit into a 3-4 better than he would their 4-3 scheme, so he could be an option.
Cornerbacks – Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, Chris Owens, Leon McFadden
Haden is a stud who should only get better this year, but after that, fans are extremely nervous; even more so when they realize that Skrine will be starting across from Haden. As has been pointed out many times here, this is the second coaching staff that has loved Skrine. Owens suffering from a few injuries that hampered him in competing for the starting job helped Skrine, but Chud has been quick to point out how much he feels Skrine has grown into the position. The hope is the idea that he was simply not ready to start last year and that is why he was victimized as a result. It remains to be seen. Doug Dieken suggested that Skrine actually tries too hard and gets too tense when big situations arise. He will have his chance to show what he can do. The most frustrating part of the cornerback discussion has been Leon McFadden who was hampered with some nagging injuries and then had some struggles when he was able to get on the field. The injuries clearly left him a little behind and he is trying to catch up, but the way he has ended up as the team’s dime back has not gone according to plan.
Safeties – T.J. Ward, Tashaun Gipson, Johnathan Bademosi, Josh Aubrey
As long as Ward is healthy, he is a stud and in Horton’s scheme, should be even better. Gipson has a huge opportunity as a former undrafted player to blossom into a big time player at the free safety. Bademosi’s athleticism is impressive but if the translation for his last name is “Bad Tackling”, it would be extremely appropriate. For all of the potential he has, Bademosi’s tackling form is an abomination and he has missed several in the preseason. The pleasant surprise from the Browns standpoint has been Aubrey, who according to Chud, made Jamoris Slaughter, the team’s sixth round pick, expendable. They would probably like to get Slaughter back on the practice squad but they like what they have in Aubrey.
Kicker – To Be Determined
The Browns do not have a kicker at the moment. They released both Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogotay. All hope is not lost. It is unlikely that anyone is tripping over themselves to grab either right now, so if the Browns needed to sign one back, they could. In the meantime, they want to look and try out a few others. Bogotay would make sense for the practice squad if they can get him there. His leg is incredibly strong, so if he can get consistently accurate, he could be a long term answer.
Punter – Spencer Lanning
While Lanning is the guy there for the time being, this position may be just as unsettled as kicker. Lanning has a big leg and has punted a few 60+ yard punts, but he also had some shanks that went half of that distance. The hope was that the New England Patriots would cut Ryan Allen and the Browns could grab him. Low and behold, Allen beats out the incumbent, Zoltan Mesko, so the Browns could take a look at him.
Long Snapper – Christian Yount
Yes, the long snapper’s name is Christian Yount. He is solid.