Browns

The Top Five Most Intriguing Players in Cleveland Browns Training Camp

Browns defensive line training camp

Browns helmets training camp building

As we’re on the precipice of Cleveland Browns training camp, I couldn’t be more excited to see who steps up. The Browns have a lot of question marks as any team should coming off a four-win season. The good news is that there are a lot of new faces to address many of the obvious holes we all complained about at the end of last season. Offensive line, cornerback, linebacker and running back were all areas targeted by the Browns’ front office1 Without further ado, here are my five most intriguing training camp players.


No. 5 – Joel Bitonio

Bitonio-Screen-Shot-compressor

One of the keys to any football team is the play of the offensive line. The Browns used a pretty premier draft pick this season when they decided to nab Joel Bitonio, who for now is still an unknown as either a tackle or a guard. Bitonio suffered an ankle sprain during mini-camp, but indications are that he’ll be ready for training camp and it will be fun to watch some new blood push (pun intended) for a spot in the Browns’ offensive line.

[Related: Cleveland Browns Film Room: A look at Joel Bitonio]

Will he push Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle? Will he push John Greco at offensive guard? Will he slide nicely into the guard spot between Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz? One thing that’s almost certain is that he’s going to bring a nastiness and physicality to the team if he’s good enough to crack the lineup. And if the Browns did a good job scouting and drafting, you have to believe Bitonio was hand-selected to fit in with Kyle Shanahan’s zone blocking scheme.

No. 4 – Ben Tate

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While many will obsess about the quarterback battle between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel, I think the real player to watch might be Ben Tate. The Browns passing attack is an unknown quantity and coming out of last season their rushing attack was even worse. 377 yards for Willis McGahee, 240 for Chris Ogbonnaya, 171 for Edwin Baker and 107 for Jason Campbell who narrowly edged out Trent Richardson who had 105 yards in two games before being traded. Let’s just say it wasn’t a shock when the Browns signed Ben Tate to a two-year deal in March.

Tate will spend camp trying to escape the shadow of Arian Foster once and for all. This will be the first time in his career that Ben Tate will be the number one running back on an NFL team not due to injury. The Browns’ expectations on him have got to be high and for his part, he doesn’t seem to mind with a confidence that borders on arrogance. All the while, he must create a shadow big enough to keep third-rounder Terrance West out of the spotlight.

The Browns’ fate on offense might depend on it. While everyone’s watching the battle between a career backup in Brian Hoyer and a high-profile rookie in Johnny Manziel, the fact remains that the Browns very well might focus Kyle Shanahan’s offense on running the ball with frequency. This could especially be true given Josh Gordon’s up-in-the-air status.

No. 3 – Jordan Cameron

600 Jordan Cameron

The Browns’ tight end might consider himself a “pass catcher” instead of a tight end, but regardless, his training camp will be very intriguing to me. The Browns are still waiting on word about Josh Gordon and what his status will be for 2014, and with all due respect to Miles Austin, Nate Burleson, Andrew Hawkins and the rest of the new faces in the receiving corps, there might not be anybody more important to the Browns’ passing attack than Jordan Cameron.

Consider that the Browns tight end caught 80 balls for 917 yards and seven touchdowns in 15 games in 2013. Also, start to ask yourself if you are going to try and pass the ball in the red zone in 2014 and Josh Gordon isn’t available, who are you going to look for? The answer is quite obviously Jordan Cameron. Also consider that Cameron is in the final year of a deal that ensures his current compensation for 2014 is only $645,000. This comes in the final year of his contract after he went to the 2013 Pro Bowl.

Between the contract situation and the Browns’ available cache of “pass catchers,” Jordan Cameron is easily one of the most intriguing players for me coming into training camp.

No. 2 – Karlos Dansby

Dansby Facebook

It’s weird to call a 32-year-old linebacker one of the five most intriguing on the way into training camp, but it’s true. I, along with most other Browns fans, loved D’Qwell Jackson and rooted for him as hard as I did for any Cleveland Browns player over the last decade. He was a tackling machine, an obvious good guy, and a good story as he overcame injuries to play 16 games in each of the last three years with the Cleveland Browns. But I felt like D’Qwell Jackson was putting a ceiling on the Browns’ defense. The defense has to have a leader and that leader has to not only know the right things to do, but also needs to be able to make some big plays. That’s where I’m hoping D’Qwell’s exit to Indianapolis and Karlos Dansby’s entrance from Arizona will pay dividends.

Dansby isn’t a long-term solution, but I’m hoping he can deliver leadership more by example than D’Qwell Jackson did. He had 6.5 sacks in 2013 for the Cardinals, but he also defensed 19 passes and came up with four interceptions. Those are just stats though. I’m hoping, and I’m sure the Browns are hoping too, that the addition of Karlos Dansby to Mike Pettine’s aggressive defense will take the overall Browns D to another level. So much of that starts with the middle linebackers and this year, that’s Karlos Dansby.

No. 1 – Justin Gilbert

2014 NFL Draft

We’ve already joked about the fact that it will be a trick trivia question when anyone asks who the Browns took first in the 2014 NFL Draft. Most of the general public will likely answer “Johnny Manziel,” forgetting all about the man the Browns called to the stage well before the Texas A&M star. When it came to making the best selection they could to improve their football team, the Cleveland Browns decided to deliver a very special Christmas present to Mike Pettine as he was looking to get his defense off to a good start in his first year as head coach of the Browns.

[Related: Cleveland Browns Film Room: A look at Justin Gilbert]

There can be little doubt that the Browns selected Justin Gilbert eighth overall with the idea that he’s absolutely ready to start opposite Joe Haden right away. Yes, the Browns made a savvy trade down out of the fourth selection where Buffalo selected Sammy Watkins, but that doesn’t diminish the level with which the Browns liked the six-footer from Oklahoma State.

He remains unsigned (as of this publication) but the Browns absolutely need him to step up and decisively beat out Buster Skrine, Leon McFadden and anyone else the Browns decide to put in the mix there. Barring some unforeseen rise to the occasion by one of those players, it will be bad news for the Browns and Mike Pettine’s defense if Justin Gilbert is unable to win the starter’s job.

*****

There are more than just these give, but these are the ones I’m most interested in. Which other (non-QB) players intrigue you?

  1. I made the decision to just skip quarterback, by the way. Everyone knows that situation all too well and I think we’ve beaten the Hoyer vs. Manziel camp battle directly into the ground. []

  • MrCleaveland

    Thank you very much for not taking the easy way and naming Manziel as one of your top five. The others on your list will likely have far more impact on the field than Johnny Fratboy will.

  • Natedawg86

    Scary quick

  • BenRM

    I agree with Gilbert as the most intriguing. I can’t wait to watch him play.

    I am more intrigued by West than I am Tate. 2 years ago, I was as high on Ben Tate as anyone. But 2 years of injuries and I am more skeptical of him than hopeful. Plus, I think West has the makings of a monster.

  • Yup. He wasn’t on this list, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t psyched.

  • Harv 21

    ditto about West

  • Harv 21

    love the electric stop and start. Looks like we have a slot-appropriate guy, especially since who knows if Travis Benjamin will return with all gears and cutting ability intact.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I still remember watching him when he was beat out on that tv show the Cowboys had to find a player for the team. Hawkins impressed me then I thought he should have won.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’m interested in Terrence West and Dion Lewis but unlike the Indians the Browns have a multitude of guys interesting to watch. Sorry, couldn’t help myself!

  • mgbode

    What would Joel Bitonio do
    If he was here right now?
    He’d make a plan and he’d follow through
    That’s what Joel Bitonio’d do

    When Joel Bitonio was in Nevada
    Blocking for the ‘Pack
    He beat down Anthony Barr
    And put him on his back

    When Joel Bitonio was in the Alps
    Fighting grizzly bears
    He used his magical fire breath
    And saved the maiden’s fair

    So what would Joel Bitonio do
    If were here today?
    I’m sure he’d kick an butt or two
    That’s what Joel Bitonio’d do

  • mddawg

    Nice but would’ve been even better with : he’d kick a Steeler butt…..

  • mgbode

    I fully expect Gilbert to have some issues early in the season (as did Haden & Peterson, just comes with being a rookie CB), but if he and Haden can lock down the edges, then our entire defense will become a monster.

  • mgbode

    good idea.

  • eldaveablo

    I could watch this all day. Hopefully those days will be Sundays.

  • eldaveablo

    I’m excited for the Tate/West combo. Hopefully they balance out the carries to ensure fresh legs all game long. A recurring theme for a few years has been our defense wearing down. Hopefully these guys can turn the tables on that.

  • RGB

    For me, it’s Desir and Kirksey.
    And Crowell. 😀

  • I like those guys, but I am guessing they’ll most likely be special teams players this year. We’ll see.

  • nj0

    2nd those who said Hawkins, Kirksey, and West. An NFL football game is less than two weeks away!

  • Pat Leonard

    Reminds me of Darren Sproles. Holy smokes, those cuts are lethal.

  • vespo09

    Anyone know how Pierre Desir is looking?

  • mgbode

    okay, let’s see guys who I’m intrigued about just 2 days away from the happiest day of the year (1st day of Browns camp!!!).

    WRs – pretty much all of them. who will step up given the foggy status of Gordon. Can Miles stay healthy? Can Burleson stay healthy? Will Benjamin be healthy and improve with opportunity? Will Hawkins have a break-out year with the opportunity? Does Greg Little still have the Browns circled on his Arena Football schedule? Whoops, how did that one get in there?

    Also, can Chandler Jones or Kenny Shaw make the roster and get a piece of the WR rotations?

    Jim Dray – good blocking TE who can catch the ball that we get to line up with Jordan at times? count me in. (just will not get open as easy as Cameron obviously)

    LG competition – I believe Bitonio locks up RG, which pushes the only available starting position to LG. Greco, Pinkston, and possibly Faulk, Gilkey, McQuistan all fighting for it.

    Ray Agnew – Noone really talks about his UDFA signing and likely due to him playing fullback. But, he could make some noise for playing time quickly.

    Desmond Bryant – when healthy, he was a difference maker on our defense. let us hope that his heart issues are in the past (for him and our defense).

    Hughes, A.Bryant, Winn – these 3 seem destined to fight it out to see which can become the most useful of our backup DL. should be a good fight 🙂

    Mingo – let’s hope that Alex Mack was taking him to those Brazilian steakhouses like Pettine asked him to do.

    Jordan Poyer – I don’t know why, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he really pushes Gipson for the FS job next month.

  • mgbode

    2 more days.

  • nj0

    Speaking of Gordon, when are they suppose to announce something official about him? Seems like that should be decided soon.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You in a hurry to hear how long he’s suspended huh?

  • nj0

    my o/u bet on the season demands me to be

  • mgbode

    late July, so probably sometime next week. and, that is just the hearing, not sure if there is another step after the hearing before they announce the suspension.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    / = s? WFNY does not endorse wagering. Expect a message from Heir Schnitkey soon!

  • Dan_L79

    100% with you on the WRs as a group. One of the things I think the press gets wrong is the assumption that every guy under 6 feet tall is a slot receiver. Based on the players the Browns have in camp, it sounds as if they will be seriously considering short guys at the outside positions. The question of who will come out to play those outside positions, and how they perform will have a greatest affect on the offense this year in my opinion, even greater than who plays QB.

  • I’m most interested in seeing who makes the final cut at RB. From the things I’ve read about Isiah Crowell, I think there is a chance that Dion Lewis may be on the outside looking in.

  • mgbode

    yeah, guys like Benjamin are terrible in the slot. He needs to be a Mike Wallace style WR. Burleson & Hawkins are our slot guys IMO. Hopefully, we have other guys step up outside to keep them there where their skills are best.

    Farmer doesn’t seem to be afraid of shorter WRs, so it’ll be interesting to see who can step up there.

  • sumnomeaztim

    Besides previously mentioned there are 4 guys that are pretty intriguing to me. The first is Darwin Cook, “the cookie monster”. Cleveland guy and wants to be a Brown. Made some huge plays at WV and I heard he looked decent at OTA’s. Two other guys are the two UDFA’s from Towson -James Oboh, TE and Randall Harris OL. These are two of the guys that plowed the road for West so curious to see if either stick. The fourth is Willie Snead. Ball State WR, Not the greatest measurables but all he does is catch the ball and make plays. If you go to camp or are watching preseason keep an eye on these four.