CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 01: Chester Taylor #29 of the Chicago Bears runs for yardage as Marcus Benard #58 of the Cleveland Browns closes in during a preseason game at Soldier Field on September 1, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
"The Sunday Five" is a loosely-titled piece where I talk about five NFL- or Browns-related topics related to this past week. In today's edition, we take a look a look at the next set of OTA sessions, a look forward at possibly having Eric Hagg as a starting safety, and whether Marcus Benard will get caught in the numbers game or not.
Head coach Pat Shurmur decided to keep the veteran players with the first-team offense during the first organized team activity sessions last week. Technically, we only know that when it comes to the first day of OTA's, which was open to the media. The other two days took place without the media in attendance. The question is not if, but when, the likes of Brandon Weeden and Mitchell Schwartz will be running with the first team offense. Will it be during the next OTA sessions? The second set of OTA sessions are from May 30 to June 1, which is from Wednesday to Friday of this week. I am not sure which, if any, of the sessions will be open to the media.
One of the puzzling things this offseason to me was the fact that the front office did not even attempt to improve the safety position. Perhaps the thing I was missing is that there is a high level of confidence in safety Eric Hagg, a seventh-round pick from a year ago. Granted, we could be completely overreacting to the fact that he was running with the first-team defense ahead of Usama Young on the first day of OTA's, but let's play along for the heck of it.
Hagg became a contributor toward the end of the season, when he registered all 11 of his tackles in the final 6 games, non of which had him starting. Last year, shortly after the Browns drafted Hagg, Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini called Hagg "the steal of the draft," and said that "guys like him don't come around very often." At the time, it seemed like a defensive coach just touting one of his players, but that "what if?" factor lingered in my mind all season long. If Hagg develops into a quality starting safety, it would be a pretty nice find for Tom Heckert in round seven. If not, then we know what one of the Browns' offseason needs will be in 2013.
Here is a question for you: how does the coaching staff make sure that Marcus Benard does not get lost in the shuffle? You have to imagine the team will keep the following players for sure: Ahtyba Rubin, John Hughes, Jabaal Sheard, Frostee Rucker, and Ja'qua Parker. Let's imagine the team only retains eight defensive lineman, and that Phil Taylor starts on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
There are three spots left. Benard returned to OTA's this week, so he is a candidate for one of the spots. Last year, the coaching staff liked Emmanuel Stephens enough to make him a mid-season starter ahead of Jayme Mitchell, so I imagine that Stephens has a good chance of making the club. At defensive tackle, Scott Paxson and Brian Schaefering could be fighting for a spot with each other if the team also decides to keep Billy Winn. With Stephens, Winn, and Paxson or Schafering, you are already up to eight players. That is where Benard is going to have to have a strong performance in order to stay with the team after last year's motorcycle accident ended his season with 3 tackles and 0.5 sacks in 4 games. Stephens had 17 tackles in 11 games