CLEVELAND, OH – As the Cleveland Browns kick off their 68th campaign, the looming hype continues as the franchise looks to turn the corner. Season after season, the Browns build up their fan base with hope in the beginning and let them down fiercely by year’s end. But, could this season be different? And, could new players raise the Browns faithful and their dreams of watching a playoff game on the shores of Lake Erie again? It all starts in training camp this Saturday. Let’s examine some of the biggest position battles to keep a close eye on as another NFL season arrives.
Brian Hoyer vs. Johnny Manziel
The blue-collar city seems somewhat divided on this battle. It’s amazing how many fans are ready to jump on the “Johnny Cleveland” wagon before he takes one official pro snap. For the kid from North Olmsted, Hoyer, this opportunity is a dream come true. To have a chance to be the starting quarterback of the team he grew up loving is nothing short of a Hollywood script. Add Manziel to the mix and you’ve got this year’s summer blockbuster.
However, as Lebron James wrote a week ago, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned.” By all indications, Hoyer, with his gym rat mentality is ready to take it. For the six-year pro, his greatest challenger may be himself, not Manziel. While Hoyer has said that his knee is 100%, the Browns were very cautious with him during OTAs and Minicamp. Hoyer tore his ACL against the Buffalo Bills on Thursday Night Football last season.
Manziel on the other hand, has made it known to Browns fans on how he spends his personal time. The heavily spotlighted young man must prove to his peers, coaches, and fans that none of the partying will spill onto the field. There is no question that Manziel has talent, the question is whether or not it will translate in the NFL.
New head coach Mike Pettine announced yesterday to the Cleveland media that by the third preseason game (St.Louis Rams), a starting quarterback will be named. May the best man win.
Chandler “Jet” Jones vs. Jonathan Krause vs. Kenny Shaw vs. Willie Snead vs. Conner Vernon
What do all of these wide receivers have in common? They are all undrafted free agents. Just one season ago, the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks carried just six wide receivers on the roster. Four of those six players were all undrafted free agents. Without question, at least one of these guys will emerge for the Browns this season.
Do not fall asleep on Vernon. At just 6’0″ and 200 pounds, Vernon looked very sharp in OTAs and Minicamp. He caught virtually everything thrown in his direction. At Duke, Vernon became the first player in ACC history to post multiple seasons with 70 catches or more.
The other one to watch is Chandler “Jet” Jones. Just two inches taller than Andrew Hawkins, Jones could make this team based on pure speed. A standout at San Jose State University, Jones can flat-out fly. Expect to see plenty of Jones in the preseason and don’t discount his kick return ability.
It will be interesting to see who emerges out of this group. The Browns need to prove everyone right that not taking a wide receiver in this past draft was an excellent idea.
Barkevious Mingo vs. Jabaal Sheard
Drafted sixth overall in 2013, Mingo got off to a promising start recording four sacks in his first seven games. It was all downhill from there. Mingo tallied just one more sack in his final eight games. In thirteen games, Sheard led the Browns with 5.5 sacks. This battle is pretty even and at some point during the season, you may see both on the field at the same time. Still, the Browns have plenty of talent at outside linebacker.
Buster Skrine vs. Justin Gilbert
Don’t laugh, this is something to watch. Arguably, Skrine was the most improved Brown last season. In fact, Skrine was second to Joe Haden on the team with 18 pass defenses. The Browns may have drafted Gilbert in the first round, but Skrine will not go down without a fight. His confidence is growing and he doesn’t doubt his instincts anymore. Gilbert will have to show his coaches quickly on the field why he was the first cornerback off the board in the draft.
MarQueis Gray vs. Jim Dray vs. Gary Barnidge
The Browns may keep three tights ends on the roster and that means that one of these guys are out. Dray was a free agent signing from this off-season and Barnidge came over part of the “good ol’e boy” network with his former coach Rob Chudzinski. The wildcard here is Gray and all indications are that he is ready to win a spot. The former Golden Gopher signal caller is versatile and is playing a new position. Gray is faster than both of them and can run out of the backfield if called upon. See the Chicago Bears game last season for proof. Who will be behind Pro Bowler Jordan Cameron on the depth chart is up in the air.
Dion Lewis vs. Isaiah Crowell vs. Edwin Baker
It is a safe bet that Ben Tate and third round pick Terrance West are a lock to be one and two on the depth chart barring any major injury. That leaves these three guys. Lewis, the star of training camp last year is poised to bounce back from his broken leg from last season’s exhibition game against the Detroit Lions. Baker is the back that rushed for 171 yards and two touchdowns during Cleveland’s last three meaningless games of the season. And, Crowell is an undrafted rookie free agent that has loads of talent and potential. The problem is his head. Did you not know it was illegal to carry a firearm in a school zone? Once a five-star recruit, Crowell was given a chance by the Browns and now it’s up to him to do something with it.
Ryan Ruiz is the Cleveland Browns Beat Writer for The Inscriber: Digital Magazine. You can follow him on Facebook: Ryan (BrownsWriter) Ruiz and Twitter @ryanpruiz24. Ryan is also a Browns correspondent for The Sportsfix. Tune in every Friday at noon on www.thesportsfix.net. Email Ryan at [email protected]://22.214.171.124/~theinscr