Has Brad Smelley taken the lead over Owen Marecic in the battle of the fullbacks?
A few weeks ago, we looked at five positions battles on the Cleveland Browns. As the team heads into their second preseason game, how are things shaping out in each of those battles?
#1 - Slot WR: I originally thought the slot receiver position would be a battle between Joshua Cribbs, Josh Cooper, Josh Gordon, and Jordan Norwood. The reality is that three of those guys haven't even really seen reps with the first-team offense. The only guy who has seen regular reps with the first-team offense is Josh Gordon, but not as the slot receiver. In a twist, when the team uses three-receiver sets, they are moving Greg Little to the slot and letting Gordon and Mohamed Massaquoi play on the outside. My original pick was that Norwood would be the team's slot receiver, so it was a surprise that he was seemingly absent for the first few weeks of camp. Pat Shurmur acknowledged this week that Norwood has been battling a back injury, but if last week's preseason game is any indication, he is doing better. It looks like the team likes Little in the slot, so he's the new favorite to fulfill that role.
#2 - LDT to Replace Phil Taylor: This was originally a battle between veterans Scott Paxson and Brian Schaefering, and rookies John Hughes and Billy Winn. Paxson suffered an injury in last week's game, so it looks like he might drop out of the running if he doesn't get healthier soon. Schaefering has been battling injuries, but has still been part of a three-man rotation with Hughes and Winn. The battle for this position is still heating up, and in the end, I still don't think we'll have a definitive winner (i.e. the team will opt for a rotation). In terms of physicality, I've been most impressed with Winn at camp.
#3 - Free Safety: There was never a competition. Usama Young has been sidelined most of camp with an injury, but that isn't the reason why Eric Hagg is starting: the coaches really like him there. Scott Petrak of the Chronicle-Telegram notes that defensive coordinator Dick Jauron is "confident Hagg has seized starting job and won't let it go."
#4 - Outside Linebacker: Originally, there was a competition between James-Michael Johnson and Kaluka Maiava to see who would fill in for Scott Fujita while he served a suspension for the first three games of the season. Things have changed drastically since then. The other outside linebacker, Chris Gocong, suffered a season-ending Achilles' injury. That means Maiava is now a lock to start over there, while Johnson is pretty much a lock to start for Fujita through Week 3. The Browns need another veteran in the starting rotation, so Fujita is heavily favored to start now over Johnson in Week 4.
#5 - Fullback: The battle between Owen Marecic and Brad Smelley is tipping in favor of Smelley. Although Marecic continues to see reps with the first-team offense, there still doesn't appear to be anything special in his game. Smelley made a nice reception for a touchdown last week, and even Bernie Kosar pointed how "Marecic really hasn't done anything in his year and a half here" during last week's preseason broadcast. Ouch. My hunch is that both guys still make the roster and that Marecic starts, but we'll see.