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Jets vs. Browns - Position Battles to Scope Out

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For what seems like the first time since the Cleveland Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, the quarterback position is not up for grabs (or in question) heading into the team's Week 1 preseason game. Heck, not a single one of the starting offensive positions are up for grabs.

This week's position battles detail the guys that are competing to be the first guy to spell a starter -- or the guy who represents depth even though he'll be inactive regularly on gameday.

(Pokorny's Projected Winner in Red)


1. Travis Wilson vs. Joshua Cribbs - No. 3 Receiver

At least for this week, Cribbs is involved in the competition for the third receiver. With Kevin Kasper (hamstring) scheduled to be sidelined, it's really Travis Wilson's chance to shine. The first-string offense will see one quarter, the second-string offense will see two quarters, and the third-string offense will receive the final quarter (if you're counting, that adds up to a dollar, or one complete football game).

Ideally, you have to imagine that while Wilson is trying to lock down the job, Derek Anderson would rather test his chemistry with Braylon Edwards and Donte Stallworth against a non-Browns secondary. I expect those two guys to be the only targets for Anderson (excluding tight ends) for at least the first series. If the starters receive a second series and end up down near the red zone, I'd like to see how Wilson matches up one-on-one on the right side of the field, just like he did at family fun night when catching a touchdown.

On the same note, I wouldn't be surprised if it's Cribbs, who is listed ahead of Wilson on the "official" (though arguably meaningless) depth chart released in advance to the game.


2. James Lee vs. Isaac Sowells - Backup Left Tackle

For the record, Cliff Louis could be included here as well, but I'll keep things simpler. Sowells is the underachieving fourth-round draft choice who has consistently looked bad in training camp and bad at the family fun night. On the other side, you have James Lee -- a guy that absolutely nobody in the media paid attention to until the Sirius NFL Radio crew kept bringing his name up during their training camp tour.

Since then, Lee has been at the forefront of discussion amongst many fans as a consideration for backup left tackle. Now, I'm dying to see what he really has to offer. When it boils down to the competition, I'm still projecting Sowells to win the roster spot. Why?

Sowells: Still considered a project and former investment (fourth rounder), I do not believe he is practice squad eligible anymore. He's also had several years, reliable or not, to get familiar with the Browns system at both guard and tackle.

Lee: He was a left guard for two years at South Carolina State before becoming a right tackle in his senior season. He has shown enough athleticism to stick around, but he has the option of going on the practice squad.

We're thin at tackle behind Joe Thomas and Kevin Shaffer, so if one of them goes down, you need two people ready, not just one. We thought Nat Dorsey had no shot to make the club last season, but he did -- and the same should hold true for Sowells this year. And, when Ryan Tucker comes back, our options will expand and we can consider other alternatives.


0011674_mediumIt'll be an intense three-way fight at LOLB for the only starting position still available on either side of the ball.

3. David McMillan vs. Shantee Orr vs. Alex Hall - Temporary Starting LOLB

When Antwan Peek went down, the flood gates opened as three individuals will receive a shot at the starting role (note: Willie McGinest would split time with them). Getting the first crack is David McMillan, who has stuck around every year despite not being given much of an opportunity to play during the regular season.

Shantee Orr is definitely capable of leaping over McMillan when it's all said and done though. He was initially brought in as a replacement of Chaun Thompson, but has the advantage, like Peek did when he was with Houston, of receiving regular gameday reps the past several seasons. Experience is all that matters sometimes. And, that's what hurts (or limits) Alex Hall's chances of winning the competition -- however, as we all know, he has by far sounded like the most intriguing rookie on our entire roster. I can't see Romeo Crennel placing the burden of a starting role on a seventh-round rookie though, at least not yet.


4. Darnell Dinkins vs. Brad Cieslak - No. 4 Tight End

This battle falls under the "if applicable" category. However, with the nagging injuries that Steve Heiden has been suffering, one of these players needs to be ready in case Heiden ends up on the injured reserve suddenly.

Dinkins is a veteran known for blocking and special teams play, but not too reliable of a pass-catcher (and he fumbles way too often for the few touches he receives). Brad Cieslak is a guy the team added to the practice squad late last year, and he's had a very solid camp, especially with the chemistry he's built with backup quarterback Brady Quinn. Cieslak's blocking abilities are pretty good as well; at least further ahead than rookie Martin Rucker's at the moment.

It may shake down to Heiden's status, depending on who gets chosen. If Heiden goes down, Cieslak is a comparable replacement that can be inserted into the offense. With a healthy Heiden though, Dinkins' familiarity on special teams may be too valuable. We already lost Thompson last year, and Joshua Cribbs covets a unit that he gels with.


5. Terry Cousin vs. Mike Adams - Nickel Back

Cousin has been around the league a lot longer than Mike Adams has been, but we didn't bring Cousin in just to give him outright veteran respect by handing him the nickel back job. If nobody else stepped up, he would be an insurance policy.

In camp, Adams, a backup safety, has reportedly played better at nickel back. Since Adams is our primary safety after Sean Jones and Brodney Pool too, the team has already shown enough faith in him to get the job done, meaning there shouldn't be an issue of "can he handle it". The move also soothes the depth chart a little: you can still keep a Jereme Perry, but now you have an older and veteran Terry Cousin anchoring a position against lesser-known receivers. That could remove some of the nuisances that might have been visible with Perry in there.


End of Previews - In Closing

There are definitely other battles and players to watch for, but sticking to the top five in detail seemed appropriate. For the record: I do not consider Jason Wright vs. Jerome Harrison to be a position battle. I fully believe that the team already has a mindset on what roles those two individuals will play this year -- they just haven't told us yet.

Another guy to scout is rookie kicker Jason Reda. I was quite impressed with his kicks at family fun night, but there wasn't a trace of wind that day. Thursday's forecast calls for thunderstorms with a mix of rain.