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A surprise Browns player to watch this year? Keep an eye on Johnson Bademosi making switch to free safety

May 29, 2013 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

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The Morning Kickoff …

More Bad is good: A week doesn’t go by in which I don’t receive a question asking why the Browns haven’t signed Arizona Cardinals free agent Kerry Rhodes as a one-year stopgap at the free safety position.

The answer may be Johnson Bademosi.

Huh?

An undrafted rookie who made the roster on special teams is keeping the Browns from signing a veteran with 116 starts in eight NFL seasons?

And Bademosi isn’t even slated to start at free safety. In the third week of OTAs, he is continuing a conversion from his natural position of cornerback and is playing behind Tashaun Gipson, himself an undrafted free agent in 2012, who ended his rookie season as the free safety starter virtually by default.

But make no mistake – Bademosi’s stock is rising fast with the new coaching staff.

I asked coach Rob Chudzinski last week if Bademosi’s practice time at safety is merely an experiment or should he be regarded as a safety going forward.

"I think he looks pretty good at safety right now,” Chudzinski answered. “We'll keep playing him there and we'll also get him some work at corner and see how that goes."

Defensive coordinator Ray Horton explained it this way: “Is he a corner? Is he a safety? It’s athletic men playing. We are trying to let athletic men find a place to play.”

Another Heckert find: Before anyone had even pronounced Bademosi’s name in the 2012 training camp – it’s BAD-emosi – former GM Tom Heckert called him “a phenom” on special teams.

How prophetic was that statement in August?

Bademosi went on to lead the Browns with 18 special teams tackles – unseating three-time team leader Josh Cribbs – finishing third in the NFL and leading all NFL rookies.

“We heard about him and watched him and knew that he had the traits, obviously – he’s tall, long and could run, and fearless, really,” said Chris Tabor, special teams coordinator. “Those are all obviously good traits in my world. Fortunately we’ve hit on it.”

In one offseason, Tabor’s special teams units lost some really key special teams core players -- Cribbs, Ray Ventrone, Kaluka Maiava, Alex Smith, Phil Dawson. All of which has made Bademosi’s value on special teams increase.

I asked Tabor if he was concerned that Bademosi’s preoccupation with learning the safety position and grabbing an opportunity to see more time on defense might lessen his effectiveness on special teams.

“Not at all,” Tabor said. “He’s a pro. I’m telling you, he comes into my meetings, he sits down, he opens up his notebook and he is a writing machine. And he studies and he studies. He wants to get better. It’s fun coaching guys like that.

“So I’m not worried about that at all. In fact, I want to see him continue to grow as a defensive player. Kind of the same story as Cory Graham when I was in Chicago. Cory was a great special teams player that didn’t play a lot of defense and kept working at defense and now we see him starting for the Baltimore Ravens (at cornerback). I’ve seen the process.”

Sky is the limit: Bademosi will be 23 years old when his second NFL training camp rolls around. He is 6-0 and 200 pounds. A three-year starter at cornerback at Stanford University, he was not invited to the NFL combine and plays with a chip on his shoulder because of that snub.

All of that may explain his instant success on special teams. What is hard to explain is why Bademosi was so underused at cornerback when the Browns were getting beat up and down the field last year. That is, when their corners weren’t called for pass interference or holding.

Stressed to the bottom of their roster because of injuries to Joe Haden, Dimitri Patterson and Buster Skrine, Bademosi was pressed into duty at cornerback in the overtime game against Dallas in Game 10. In 20 snaps on defense, Bademosi was credited with three tackles and a pass breakup against Dez Bryant. He saw no further action on defense until the final two games.

“I think they knew I was capable, but that was last year’s staff,” Bademosi said. “With a new staff comes a lot of changes and this is one of the changes.

“They’re giving me the opportunity there. The coaches thought (free safety) would be a good position for me and they said they like me at corner but they like me at safety and I’m an athlete so they’re just gonna try me there.

“The game’s changing. Corners are getting bigger and safeties are getting more athletic, just like tight ends are getting more athletic all over the league.”

I have a hunch that Bademosi is going to give Gipson a strong run for the starting job at free safety this summer. And if he wins the job, he may be one of the pleasant surprises of the Browns’ season.

“With opportunity comes a lot of things, and I’m hoping that’s the case,” he said.

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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