Roster Analysis: Cleveland Browns

The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

Here is an in-depth look at the Cleveland Browns as they prepare for their season-opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, 1 p.m. ET.

QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Brandon Weeden. Backups -- Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer.
Weeden has a strong arm and should benefit from working from the shotgun in most passing situations in Norv Turner's offense. He did not play well in the third preseason game when he had to throw into tight windows and needs a fast start to get the critics off his back and to have his teammates believe in him. Campbell provides experience off the bench with 70 starts between 2006 and 2011. He started one game for the Bears last year. Hoyer played behind Tom Brady three years in New England.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Trent Richardson. Backups -- Bobby Rainey, Dennis Johnson, FB Chris Ogbonnaya.
Injuries decimated depth at running back before mid-August, but Richardson came through training camp and two preseason games unscathed. He weighs 225 pounds, 10 pounds lighter than a year ago, and his quicker and more elusive. Johnson is an undrafted rookie claimed on waivers Sept. 1. Rainey was with the Ravens last year but did not play in a regular season game. Season ending injuries to Montario Hardesty (knee) and Dion Lewis (fractured fibula). Ogbonnaya is undersized for a fullback, but he runs better and is more reliable as a receiver than Owen Marecic. Marecic was waived on the cut to 75.
TIGHT END: Starter -- Jordan Cameron. Backups -- Gary Barnidge, MarQuies Gray, Keavon Milton.
Cameron is fast and "can jump out of the stadium," to use Weeden's words. He fought for the ball in training camp and preseason better than he did in his first two years in the league. Barnidge has injury issues, missing all of 2011 with a broken ankle and was sidelined in training camp with a sprained shoulder. He has 18 career catches. Gray and Milton are undrafted rookies claimed on waivers. Gray was a wide receiver/quarterback at Minnesota. At 293 pounds Milton will be primarily a blocker.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Greg Little, Josh Gordon. Backups -- Davone Bess, Travis Benjamin, Josh Cooper.
Gordon is listed as a starter but is suspended for the first two games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. Gordon likes the ball over his shoulder. Little can go up in a crowd for the ball and runs after the catch better than any other receiver on the roster. Bess can find the soft spot in the zone defense and will move the chains on third down. Benjamin can fly. He weighs only 175 pounds, but has the attitude if the defenders can't hit him, they can't hurt him. Cooper won't get many chances, but he is willing to do the dirty work.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Joe Thomas, LG John Greco, C Alex Mack, RG Shawn Lauvao, RT Mitchell Schwartz. Backups -- RG Oniel Cousins, LG Jason Pinkston, T Rashard Butler, G Garrett Gilkey, RT Martin Wallace, G/C Patrick Lewis.
Thomas hasn't missed a snap or a Pro Bowl since being picked as the third overall choice of the 2007 draft. Greco won the starting left guard job in minicamp as well as a five-year contract. Mack has made every offensive snap since being drafted in the first round in 2009. Right guard is in flux. Cousins will be a backup when Lauvao returns in midseason from ankle surgery, but Cousins will get the start in the opener vs. Miami. Pinkston can back up either guard spot and could replace Cousins if he recovers from his sprained ankle. Butler has been in the league since 2006 but has played only two games in the past two seasons because of triceps injuries.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LE Ahtyba Rubin, NT Phil Taylor, RE Desmond Bryant. Backups -- LE John Hughes, NT Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, RE Billy Winn, RE Armonty Bryant.
Ends Rubin and Desmond Bryant will get the chance to rush the quarterback in coordinator Ray Horton's 3-4 defense. Rubin moves quickly for a 330-pound man and is strong enough to play nose tackle. He will chase ball carriers down field. Taylor is all the way back from a pectoral tear that cost him the first half of the 2012 season. His main job will be to occupy two blockers so the inside linebackers can make tackles. Back spasms hindered Desmond Bryant off and on in training camp. He will start at end and will play DT when Horton uses four-man fronts. The Browns envision Winn can spell Rubin or Bryant and Kitchen plants his 330 pounds in the middle when Taylor gets a blow. Hughes will play tackle on third down when the Browns use a four-man front. Armonty Bryant is a project, Horton said.
LINEBACKERS: Starters - SLB Paul Kruger, ILB D'Qwell Jackson, ILB Craig Robertson, ROLB Jabaal Sheard. Backups -- ROLB Barkevious Mingo, ILB Tank Carder, LOLB Quentin Groves, ILB Brandon Magee, OLB Paul Hazel, OLB Eric Martin.
Kruger is a bull rusher who had nine sacks with the Ravens last year and has an inside move. Sheard uses power to win his battles and Mingo, when healthy is slippery and fast rushing outside. He was working on a spin move before a bruised lung set him back. Jackson, in his eighth season, is the surest tackler among the linebackers and still moves sideline to sideline. Robertson can cover running backs. Groves can back up either outside linebacker spot. Hazel, Magee and Martin will play special teams primarily.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Joe Haden, RCB Buster Skrine, SS T.J. Ward, FS Tashaun Gipson. Backups -- CB Chris Owens, CB Leon McFadden, S Johnson Bademosi, S Josh Aubrey.
Haden will follow the opponent's top receiver and is the surest tackler on run support. Skrine beat out Owens for the starting job at RCB. Owens will play in nickel situations with Skrine moving over the slot. The Browns are inexperienced at safety after Ward, now in his fourth season. Second-year safety Gipson is starting for the first time, Aubrey is a rookie and Bademosi was a backup cornerback as a rookie last year.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Billy Cundiff, P Spencer Lanning, LS Christian Yount, KOR Johnson Bademosi, PR Travis Benjamin.
The Browns cut rookie Brandon Bogotay and terminated the contract of Shayne Graham on the cutdown to 53 players. That left them without a kicker as practice began Monday for their game against the Dolphins on Sunday, but then Cundiff was signed Tuesday. Lanning won the punting job almost by default and carried a 46.7 average into the final preseason game. He punted twice against the Bears for 104 yards. Benjamin's sped makes him dangerous. He returned one punt 93 yards for a touchdown last year and one 91 yards for a TD in preseason. Benjamin could return kicks but the Browns probably won't risk that until Gordon returns. Rainey and Johnson, the young running backs, will get auditions at kick returner behind Bademosi. Yount is automatic and signed a five-year extension last month.

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