By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Rookie roundup: Johnny Manziel and the rest of the Browns’ rookie draft class have been interacting with their new teammates and coaches since Monday.
While the veterans take the weekend off, the draft class will join 11 undrafted free agents and several invited for tryouts at coach Mike Pettine’s rookie minicamp on Saturday and Sunday.
When the full team eventually reconvenes in training camp in late July, it’s all about competition. This is an early look at how each of the players taken in last week’s draft may affect the competition and trigger a domino effect.
First round: Cornerback Justin Gilbert
Joe Haden was drafted as a shutdown cornerback in 2010. In his four seasons, the following players have started opposite him at the other cornerback spot and have played to mixed reviews: Sheldon Brown, Dimitri Patterson and Buster Skrine. Gilbert immediately moves into the starting spot, giving the Browns two cornerbacks taken in the top 10 of the draft. Gilbert’s arrival moves Skrine inside, where he now can concentrate exclusively on covering slippery slot receivers. Gilbert also was an accomplished kickoff returner at Oklahoma State, finishing with six career TDs. He would be the odds-on choice to handle those duties in his rookie season. Who was the Browns kickoff returner in 2013? I can’t recall, either.
First round: Quarterback Johnny Manziel
Manziel said he’s “low man on the totem pole.” Owner Jimmy Haslam said Manziel is the backup quarterback to Brian Hoyer. OK, that’s how it starts. National and local Websites already are conducting polls about how long that depth chart order lasts. Ideally, Hoyer would keep Manziel on the sidelines champing at the bit. Veteran journeyman Tyler Thigpen and undrafted free agent Connor Shaw round out the depth chart. So Hoyer is the only quarterback left from a year ago – and he played in only three games. Name tags in the quarterbacks room will be in order, though we assume Manziel won’t need one.
Second round: Offensive lineman Joel Bitonio
On draft day, Pettine said that Bitonio could play all five positions, but would start off inside. At the veteran minicamp, free agent pickup Paul McQuistan and John Greco lined up at both guard positions. The backups were 2013 undrafted free agent Chris Faulk and Jason Pinkston. It’s possible that Bitonio’s addition could push McQuistan to right tackle to compete with 32-game starter Mitchell Schwartz. Pettine has said the coaches would seek to play the five best linemen. Joe Thomas and Alex Mack would be automatics. That leaves the other three positions wide open and “position flexibility” theoretically could result in a plethora of combinations. Faulk, McQuistan and Bitonio could play guard or tackle; Greco, guard or center. Schwartz has been the least flexible over his Browns’ career, playing only right tackle. Schwartz said at minicamp there has been no conversation about trying him at guard.
Third round: Linebacker Christian Kirksey
Veteran Karlos Dansby was signed in free agency to replace stalwart D’Qwell Jackson at one inside linebacker spot. Kirksey played weak outside linebacker at Iowa, but was drafted in the third round to take dead aim on the inside job tenuously held by Craig Robertson. By choosing the slender, fast Kirksey over the squatty, stout Chris Borland of Wisconsin (taken six spots later by the 49ers), Pettine was making a statement about the team’s sub-par third-down defense. Kirksey will have to prove he can cover tight ends, backs and sometimes slot receivers. His addition also bumps Darius Eubanks a notch down on the depth chart.
Third round: Running back Terrance West
He may be only 5-9 1/4, but he is no third-down scatback. Solidly built at 225 pounds, West’s physical running style fits the style of coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s one-cut, downhill running game. West can challenge free agent pickup Ben Tate for playing time and, at the least, spell him if Tate prevails as the feature back. West would relegate Dion Lewis to a third-down role. Where this leaves multi-faceted Chris Ogbonnaya remains to be seen. Ogbonnaya was miscast as the starting fullback last year and reserve halfback. The Browns have added a natural fullback, Chris Pressley, in free agency.
Fourth round: Cornerback Pierre Desir
He has terrific size (6-1, 198) and enough speed to play on the outside, but is making a huge jump from Division II to the NFL. Desir is expected to press 2013 third-round pick Leon McFadden for the top backup job behind Haden and will need to be a major contributor on all special teams.
|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. Use the hashtage #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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