Cornerback is the final position left to cover for our training camp previews, and then we'll have officially given you [hopefully] a little more knowledge on all 90 players who will be in Berea for Cleveland Browns training camp. Our cornerback preview will be broken down into two parts.
The first part will cover the top four players at the position, including starters Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown, and backups Dimitri Patterson and Buster Skrine. Each of these players are expected to return in the same positions they were in a year ago, but we could see some shake-ups as the year moves along.
1. JOE HADEN - NO. 1 STARTING CORNERBACK
Is Joe Haden an elite or shutdown cornerback? I think that is a question that gets asked way too often. He is a very talented, young cornerback who continues to grow, and that is all that matters right now.
Haden started 15 games last season, missing one contest due to a knee injury. He was still bothered by the knee injury after that, but he played through it. The No. 1 thing that stands out for Haden last season is that he had zero interceptions after having six in his rookie season. It's not like he didn't have the opportunities -- there were several balls that he just flat out dropped. I know interceptions aren't everything, but if he starts picking balls off again, it'll increase his stock even further.
Haden often stays glued to his receiver and had 19 passes defended in 2011. He still hasn't earned complete respect from NFL officials, though, as there were many plays in which he made a good-looking play on the ball in tight coverage but was flagged for pass interference. There are times where he gets beat off the line, but he usually does a good job recovering in time to challenge the receiver. He's also an asset coming up to defend against the run and is by far the team's best player in the secondary.
Player Quality: A
Job Security: A+
Final Roster Odds: 100%
2. SHELDON BROWN - NO. 2 STARTING CORNERBACK
Brown has his fair share of supporters, but there is also a crowd who almost seem pained by the thought of him being one of the team's starting cornerbacks.
Granted, things can always change as a player gets older, but Brown has remained an ideal No. 2 cornerback in my mind. He is not a player I look at and think, "we better move this guy to safety while he still has something left in the tank."
While Haden is the young spark plug who can get everyone pumped up, Brown is the reliable veteran of the secondary. He has played in 160 consecutive regular season games (he hasn't missed a game in his career). Sure, there are still a couple of plays where you see him get burned by a receiver or he looks out of position, but that's inevitable for every team unless you've got two shutdown cornerbacks -- you win some, and you lose some. There's a chance Brown will be unseated by Patterson as the starting cornerback, but no matter how you put it, Brown will remain a key contributor on gameday.
Player Quality: B-
Job Security: B+
Final Roster Odds: 100%
3. DIMITRI PATTERSON - PRIMARY NICKELBACK
I was so impressed by Patterson in 2011 that I felt it needed to be a top priority that the Browns re-sign the veteran cornerback in the offseason. The team ended up giving him a 3-year deal worth $16 million, which is a tad expensive for a nickelback.
Here is why I think he remains the nickelback this season: the "big bucks" for Patterson don't kick in until 2013 and 2014. Brown is in the final year of his contract. The picture that I see being painted is that Brown remains the starter this year, and Patterson remains the nickelback. Next year, Patterson can move into a starting role, Brown can be re-signed only if he accepts a low salary, and Skrine can be the nickelback.
Patterson's strengths seem to be at the nickelback position, too, where he defended 12 passes a year ago and had one interception. In the one start he made in place of Haden, he gave way too much cushion to the receivers on the Raiders. Granted, that was probably the coaches that told him to do that, but if they didn't have confidence in him playing closer then, it's probably not going to change much in the future as a starter. Remember: he didn't get very positive reviews when he started two years ago in Philadelphia.
Player Quality: B
Job Security: A (as the nickelback)
Final Roster Odds: 100%
4. BUSTER SKRINE - PRIMARY DIMEBACK
Skrine played in all 16 games last year and finished the season with 18 tackles (including 7 on special teams) and 1 interception. He figures to be the team's dimeback again, and a very good one at that. Skrine's development does not need to be rushed -- as I stated above, if this is Brown's final year with the team, Skrine can be elevated to a higher role in 2013.
With that said, there is an outside chance that Skrine could receive more significant playing time at some point during the 2012 season. Like Hagg, I think the coaching staff is really optimistic about his future with the team. He is really fast and could also be a contributor on kickoff returns if something were to happen to Cribbs.
Final Roster Odds: 99%
That's it for part one of our cornerback preview! In part two, we'll cover the likes of James Dockery, Trevin Wade, and the four undrafted free agents on the team. In the poll, pick the scenario that you think we'll see on opening day.