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Do the Browns still have position needs to fill in free agency?

May 01, 2013 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

The Morning Kickoff …

Roster re-exam: With the draft over, the 2013 roster makeover by the Browns is probably 90 percent complete. But there could be a few free agent additions made before training camp. Let’s re-examine the depth chart and see where possible position needs remain.

Quarterback

Projected starter: Brandon Weeden.

Others: Jason Campbell, Thad Lewis.

Analysis: Weeden survived free agency and the draft to remain the starter so far. During the draft, NFL Network’s Ian Rapaport reported the Browns talked to the Cardinals about a trade for Brian Hoyer. That doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

Last word: Did the Browns stock up on extra 2014 picks to provide the means to make a move on the next year’s top quarterback prospect? Weeden could dispel that speculation by showing significant improvement in the new offense under QB-friendly coaches.

Wide receiver

Projected starters: Josh Gordon, Greg Little, Davone Bess.

Others: David Nelson, Travis Benjamin, Jordan Norwood, Josh Cooper.

Analysis: The addition of Bess finally filled the role of a respected veteran to lead the young guys by example. Bess is a slot receiver who probably will push Little back to the outside, where he was less effective. The time may be right, however, for Little to take his game to a higher level, and he can do that on the outside.

Last word: I’m fine with this group.

Tight end

Projected starter: Jordan Cameron.

Others: Kellen Davis, Gary Barnidge, Dan Gronkowski, Brad Smelley.

Analysis: Entering his third season, Cameron will be given the chance to blossom as a No. 1 under the new coaching staff. Davis will be the in-line blocker. Barnidge is a low-risk flier with one year experience in coach Rob Chudzinski’s offense in Carolina.

Last word: Kellen Winslow? Forget it. Let’s see what Cameron can do.

Running back

Projected starter: Trent Richardson.

Others: Montario Hardesty, Chris Ogbonnaya, Dion Lewis.

Analysis: A sub on third down? I don’t recall Emmitt Smith coming off the field. LaDainian Tomlinson, either. Last year former Browns linebacker and current Giants radio analyst  Carl Banks told me, “The Browns are doing defenses a favor by taking Trent Richardson off the field on third down.” Offensive coordinator Norv Turner probably will make that call during training camp. If Richardson is seen as a third-down back, he will need a series off each half. And then Hardesty and Ogbonnaya could be used. What about Lewis? Some say he’s Turner’s Darren Sproles – a pint-sized third-down playmaker. We’ll see.

Last word: As long as Richardson’s healthy, they’re OK here.

Fullback

Projected starter: Owen Marecic.

Others: None.

Analysis: Turner has always used a traditional, smash-mouth lead blocker. Perhaps Marecic can reset his career as that without having to worry about flare-out pass routes.

Last word: Unsigned free agents include Ovie Mughelli, Corey McIntyre, Earnest Graham and Owen Schmitt.

Offensive line

Projected starters: Joe Thomas, John Greco, Alex Mack, Shawn Lauvao, Mitch Schwartz.

Others: Oniel Cousins, Ryan Miller, Jason Pinkston, Jarrod Shaw, Dominic Alford, Garrett Gilkey.

Analysis: Pinkston, the former starting left guard, has been cleared to resume his career after recovering from a blood clot. The guards in Pat Shurmur’s offense were not agile enough. Turner is known for his power running game, so agility might be less of a need now. If so, there are enough guards on hand to compete for the starting positions.

Last word: One-time Jets Pro Bowler Brandon Moore, 32, is an unsigned free agent.

Defensive line

Projected starters: Desmond Bryant, Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin.

Others: Billy Winn, John Hughes, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, Brian Sanford, Hall Davis, Armonty Bryant.

Analysis: At minicamp, Rubin said he was excited about moving to defensive end in the 3-4. He lost about 15 pounds in the offseason. Hughes and Kitchen are prototypical nose tackles, so there seems a surplus there.

Last word: This may be the strongest position on the roster.

Linebacker      

Projected starters: Paul Kruger, James-Michael Johnson, D’Qwell Jackson, Barkevious Mingo.

Others: Jabaal Sheard, Quentin Groves, Craig Robertson, Tank Carder, L.J. Fort, Ryan Rau, Adrian Moten, Kendrick Adams.

Analysis: The eventual starting four could instead feature Sheard ahead of Mingo or Robertson ahead of Johnson. We listed them this way because of Mingo’s draft status and unmatched quickness and Johnson’s size advantage over Robertson.

Last word: Unsigned free agent Karlos Dansby has the preferred size (6-4 and 250) and experience for the inside linebacker position next to Jackson, but he’s 31 and not as fast as he was five years ago.

Cornerback

Projected starters: Joe Haden and Leon McFadden.

Others: Buster Skrine, Trevin Wade, Johnson Bademosi, Kevin Barnes, Chris Owens, Prince Miller.

Analysis: The pressure will be on in camp for third-round pick McFadden to win the starting job. If he does, relegating Skrine to the No. 1 nickel back role, the top three cornerbacks would measure 5-11, 5-9 5/8 and 5-9. Bademosi (6-0) and Barnes (6-1) are the only ones with decent height.

Last word: Fifteen projected starters switched teams in free agency. The best one left unsigned, Quentin Jammer, is 34.

Safety

Projected starters: T.J. Ward and Tashaun Gipson.

Others: Eric Hagg, Jamoris Slaughter, Kent Richardson.

Analysis: A ball-hawking free safety would seem to be the team’s biggest void at this point. Gipson was a free-agent find of the last regime and probably would have been the starter under the old coaching staff. The new staff likes him, too. But what other choices does it have? Slaughter is still not 100 percent recovered from Achilles surgery in September.

Last word: The best one unsigned is Kerry Rhodes, 30, who spent the last two seasons in Ray Horton’s defense in Arizona.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

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