Rookies, first year players, injured veterans and quarterbacks reported Monday for training camp, officially ending a turbulent offseason and kicking off what the franchise hopes is a new era under first-year head coach Hue Jackson.
Sure, change is nothing new in Cleveland where executives, GMs, coaches and quarterbacks are herded in and out like cattle, but this time the shock waves rippled through the 53-man roster and as we look ahead to 2016 and beyond, the youth movement is on.
Tight end Seth DeValve (Fourth round) will compete with E.J. Bibbs, Randall Telfer and J.P. Holtz for the second tight end slot opposite Pro Bowler Gary Barnidge, who is returning from sports hernia surgery in June.
The Browns drafted quarterback Cody Kessler (93rd overall in round 3) but the hope is that he doesn’t see the field in 2016. Barring a quantum leap in his development during camp, the team would love nothing more than to redshirt him.
Including the pec injury to defensive end Desmond Bryant that will likely sideline him for the year, the Browns are set to return 12 of 22 starters from last year’s 3-13 squad when camp officially opens on Friday: 7 on offense, 5 on defense. Bryant’s injury kicks open the door for third-round pick Karl Nassib as well as last year’s third rounder Xavier Cooper in defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4 scheme.
Opportunity knocks at outside linebacker. Aside from Paul Kruger, the door for playing time is wide open and the focus will be on second-round pick Emmanuel Ogbah and fourth-round pick Joe Schobert to take advantage.
It’s conceivable that at least 10 of the 14-man rookie class will make this team, and not just for the sake of keeping players in an effort to validate a class either.
Of the Browns final 53 on Jan 3, 15 players are gone in addition to 4-of-12 that were on the team’s injury lists.
To borrow from Stephen Colbert’s presidential candidate elimination tournament, ‘Hungry for Power Games,’ the ‘Browns Fallen’ include: president Alec Scheiner, general manager Ray Farmer, head coach Mike Pettine and staff, safety Donte Whitner, linebackers Karlos Dansby, Craig Robertson and Scott Solomon, receivers Brian Hartline, Dwayne Bowe, Darius Jennings and Travis Benjamin, quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, Pat Devlin and Connor Shaw, tight end Jim Dray, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, center Alex Mack as well as offensive linemen Darrian Miller, safety Tashaun Gipson, defensive back/special teamer Johnson Bademosi, defensive end Randy Starks and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
Fans remain puzzled by the Browns decision to allow Schwartz, Mack, Benjamin and Gipson to simply walk out the door considering the vast amount of salary cap space available to them at over $42.5 million according to the NFL players association as of July 25.
A variety of factors weighed in on the decision: fit within the new culture and schemes as well as 3-5 year projection down the road when the team is expected to be a contender. The Browns asked themselves, ‘Do they project to be at and play at a peak level at that time or are we better off saving money and cap space by letting them walk and developing our own players?’
They chose the latter.
This rebuild is a 3-part process: gut the roster, find impact players and then win.
Phase 1 is nearly complete. We’ll begin to get a look at the progress with phase 2 starting Friday.