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Browns: Five position battles to watch in training camp

The Browns who haven’t already reported — healthy veterans — will arrive in Berea today. They’ll check in

The Browns who haven’t already reported — healthy veterans — will arrive in Berea today. They’ll check in, take the conditioning test and listen to coach Hue Jackson’s pre-camp address before hitting the field Friday for the first full-squad practice.
Low expectations greet the team that went 3-13 last year, then experienced the fourth coaching change since 2010. But there is a bright side to being a team in transition — few positions are settled on the 90-man roster, which should lead to several interesting battles throughout training camp.
As always, that includes quarterback.
Robert Griffin III is expected to be the starter Sept. 11 when the Browns visit Philadelphia for the opener, but it’s not a slam dunk. Jackson has repeatedly said he’s not ready to name a starter and plans to extend the process into camp.
Griffin was inconsistent throughout the offseason practices as he tried to shake off the rust of not taking a snap last season in Washington while learning Jackson’s scheme. Jackson remains in his corner and will give him every opportunity to win the starting job.
But expect Josh McCown, 37, to add some intrigue to the competition. Many observers believe he outperformed Griffin in the spring, and if that continues into the preseason games, Jackson could face a difficult decision. McCown is extremely athletic for his age and put up strong numbers (63.7 completion percentage, 2,109 yards, 12 touchdowns, four interceptions, 93.3 rating) in eight starts of an injury-plagued 2015.
Rookie third-round pick Cody Kessler isn’t part of the race, as at least the early part of the season will be devoted to development.
Here are other position battles that should be fun to watch over the next month-plus.
Outside linebacker
The Browns have used a lot of resources on the position without the desired return.
Paul Kruger signed a five-year, $40 million deal in 2013, and while playing all 48 games since he arrived, he has only 18 sacks, including just 2.5 last year. Nate Orchard was the 51st pick in 2015, and Emmanuel Ogbah was taken at No. 32 in April and Joe Schobert in the fourth round.
Then there’s Barkevious Mingo, the No. 6 pick in 2013 who has seven career sacks, including none in 16 games last season.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s first priority is pressuring the quarterback, so he needs at least two from this group to come to the forefront.
Kruger is the incumbent but could be pushed by the second-round picks as the Browns continue their youth movement. He’s likely to keep a roster spot regardless of the depth chart, while Mingo seems less certain as he hasn’t been able to find a role and make an impact.
Wide receiver
Things got a whole lot more interesting with the reinstatement of former All-Pro Josh Gordon, who’s only 25. But he won’t practice for at least a couple of weeks and will be suspended for the first four games, so the Browns must prepare to continue life without him.
Gordon fits right in as he joins a receiving corps full of unknowns.
The Browns drafted four rookies, including Corey Coleman at No. 15. He’s got the inside track at a starting spot, while Ricardo Louis (No. 114), Jordan Payton (154) and Rashard Higgins (172) will fight for roster spots and playing time.
Terrelle Pryor adds another layer of intrigue. He made the conversion from quarterback last year but never got any traction. He looked much improved during the spring and seems determined to put his tremendous physical gifts to good use. The thought of him on one side and Gordon on the other should excite fans.
The only certainty among the group is Andrew Hawkins, the sixth-year slot receiver with 176 career catches. But he missed eight of the last nine games last year after suffering a pair of concussions and must prove he can stay healthy and isn’t afraid to go over the middle.
Taylor Gabriel went from 621 receiving yards as a rookie to 241 in his second season and is squarely on the bubble.
The defensive backfield has four starting spots and four question marks. The only sure thing appears to be nickelback K’Waun Williams, assuming he can stay healthy.
The Browns will have two new starting safeties after letting Tashaun Gipson leave in free agency and then cutting veteran Donte Whitner. Ibraheim Campbell, a fourth-round pick last year, has a leg up at strong safety, while Jordan Poyer is expected to beat out Rahim Moore for the free safety job.
Cornerback is more jumbled, especially with two-time Pro Bowler Joe Haden (ankle) opening camp on the physically unable to perform list. He hopes to be back soon, and the Browns need him playing at a high level.
Tramon Williams was solid last year but is 33 years old and better cast as a second or third corner. Justin Gilbert, the No. 8 pick in 2014, showed promise in the offseason but his history demands a wait-and-see approach.
The Browns do have numbers, if not clarity. Jamar Taylor, a former second-round pick, was acquired from Miami during the draft and joins Pierre Desir, Charles Gaines and fifth-round rookie Trey Caldwell as candidates who will get a long look to make a good impression.
Right tackle
Mitchell Schwartz left more than a 6-foot-5, 320-pound hole when negotiations broke down with the Browns and he left for Kansas City in free agency. He didn’t miss a snap in four years, played at a near-Pro Bowl level the last two years and might’ve been the smartest guy on the team.
Shon Coleman (6-7, 310) was drafted out of Auburn in the third round with the 76th pick. Then Baylor’s Spencer Drango (6-6, 315) in the fifth round at No. 168.
They will compete with veteran free agent pickup Alvin Bailey, who worked with the starters for the majority of the offseason program. Veteran Michael Bowie, who hasn’t been healthy in two years in Cleveland, could also enter the mix.
Coleman would seem to be the favorite to win the job on a mostly veteran line, but he has to play catch-up. He didn’t practice during the offseason following knee surgery after the season at Auburn. The coaches are optimistic he will be able to adapt quickly, with Bailey the insurance policy.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or [email protected] Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.


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