Browns have other battles than just QB
Johnny Manziel can’t go anywhere these days without a crowd following his every move.
That includes Browns training camp, which opens to the public Saturday at 9:30 a.m. The expected large demand to watch “Johnny Football” forced the team to institute a registration policy for those wanting tickets so as to avoid turning away angry fans at the gate.
The Manziel-Brian Hoyer competition for the starting quarterback job has become a hot topic, not just in northeast Ohio but on a national scale. “ESPN” and “The NFL Network” will likely have reporters on the scene from the start of camp to the end, critiquing every throw by the two players.
There are actually other competitions to follow for fans who might have some quarterback fatigue. It’s Cleveland, after all. When is anything ever etched in stone?
Here are a few other areas that will be worth keeping track of as the month of August plays out:
It won’t matter which of the two quarterbacks starts if he doesn’t have a stable of quality receivers with which to work. Josh Gordon is likely gone for a lengthy period of time because of a violation of the NFL’s drug policy. No receiver on the roster comes close to having Gordon’s big-play skills, but you can win in the NFL with several good receivers working in unison in a coordinated system.
Miles Austin was signed to add size and speed similar to Gordon, but he’s been prone to injury for several years since his productive time with the Dallas Cowboys. Nate Burleson brings experience and a great attitude, but those traits only go so far. Tiny slot receiver Andrew Hawkins was the star of organized training activity (OTA) practices, but will that translate to the regular season?
It’s imperative that tight end Jordan Cameron build off his coming-out season of 2013, when he earned a Pro Bowl berth with 80 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. A healthy Austin would be a bonus.
It will be interesting to see how quickly and effectively the offense picks up the system being installed by coordinator Kyle Shanahan. The system is different from the vertical passing game that was the foundation for the Air Coryell offense run by previous coordinator Norv Turner. Shanahan likes to set up play action and bootlegs with a power running game centered on a zone blocking scheme.
Shanahan had success working with then-rookie Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III in 2012, making excellent use of Griffin’s mobility and lack of comfort in the pocket. The little we saw of Hoyer before he injured a knee last season showed that he works well in the pocket, at times showing a quicker release than any Browns quarterback in recent memory.
Fans are going to like watching rookie running back Terrance West, a third-round draft choice from Towson. West has a good chance of winning the competition with Ben Tate, who has to emerge after playing in the shadow of Arian Foster in Houston. West has a low center of gravity and a strong lower body.
Another back to watch is Dion Lewis, who was acquired in a 2013 trade. The plan last season was to use him as a change-of-pace back to Trent Richardson, but that never materialized because of a season-ending ankle injury suffered by Lewis in a preseason game.
There were some draft experts who thought the Browns’ best value pick was guard Joel Bitonio in the second round. Bitonio earned a solid reputation at the University of Nevada. He’ll likely work with the first team from day one of camp. Among Bitonio’s strengths is his quick feet, which fits well with all the sliding movement involved in zone blocking.
Defensive lineman Desmond Bryant was a noticeable addition last year before his season ended because of a heart condition that required surgery. The run defense was among the best in the NFL prior to Bryant’s departure. His return could be significant.
Eye tests during offseason practices didn’t reveal any noticeable weight gain for linebacker Barkevious Mingo, the sixth overall draft pick in 2013. Mingo did little to impress anyone last season. If he can’t improve as a pass rusher, it will be another wasted pick.
General manager Ray Farmer gambled by trading down in the first round and then selecting cornerback Justin Gilbert eighth overall. In making the move, Farmer passed an opportunity to draft Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.
If Gilbert plays as expected, no one will miss Watkins. Gilbert and Joe Haden could form one of the better corner duos in the NFL and help complete a secondary that was strengthened by the addition of strong safety Donte Whitner.
Karlos Dansby was signed to replace D’Qwell Jackson at one of the inside linebacker spots. Dansby was an All-Pro last season in Arizona and is clearly a better run stopper than Jackson, assuming his age (32) won’t begin to lessen his skills.