With OTAs set to begin this Tuesday (full schedule here) for the Cleveland Browns, we will start to get a glimpse of potential position battles and the development or maturation of some of the team's second-year players. In this week's offseason edition of "The Sunday Five," I take a look at five storylines I'm interested in learning about during OTAs.
We know the left tackle, left guard, and center positions will be set with Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, and Alex Mack, respectively. Mack is expected to take part in some activities during OTAs as he makes his way back from a broken leg. The real story on the offensive line will be how Cameron Erving, and to a lesser extent, Michael Bowie, disrupt the right side of the offensive line rotation.
Even though Erving might be moved around during the offseason activities, I'm going to play close attention to which position he lines up at more. Is it right guard or right tackle? Keep in mind that last year, we didn't know which guard position Bitonio would be at, and from Day 1 of OTAs, it was pretty much Bitonio at left guard and John Greco at right guard. If they were willing to insert a second-round pick into the first-team lineup right away, what would stop them from doing so with a first-round pick?
Also, before Erving was drafted, there was some thought that Bowie, who was sort of "stolen from the Seahawks and stashed" last year, could replace Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle. If Erving or Bowie get some first-team reps during OTAs, we could have an intense, four-way battle on the right side of the line come training camp.
The Browns made the peculiar move to cut kicker Garrett Hartley recently, leaving them with no experienced kicker on the roster. For the time being, two youngsters (but not rookies) will battle it out: Travis Coons out of Washington and Carey Spear out of Vanderbilt. A few weeks ago, general manager Ray Farmer basically said that the team knows what other kickers are out there, and gave the impression that if the younger guys don't work out, they can always add more competition.
In other words, by waiving Hartley, the Browns basically said, "there are equivalent free agent kickers out there that we could sign at any time; we'd rather use that 90-man roster spot on another position player who could be a gem, and figure out the kicker position as we go along." While I agree with that strategy a little, extra points have also become more important, as will the snaps (which is another position that will have competition). So, during OTAs, let's see if either Coons or Spear stand out compared to the other.
We're probably not going to get much clarity at the running back position, and quite frankly, I'm not sure that it matters. The Browns, for all intents and purposes, did nothing with RB Isaiah Crowell all of last offseason until the final preseason game. Then, before we knew it, he was getting a bunch of touches in the regular season and instantly became a fan favorite. What I'm curious about is whether we'll see any indication of RB Terrance West still being in the dog house after being at odds with the coaching staff last season. Who is the first guy who QB Josh McCown is handing the ball off to -- West or Crowell?
CB Justin Gilbert spent a lot of time working out with CB Joe Haden this offseason, but how long is it going to take for him to earn the trust of the coaching staff again? And, when he does earn that trust, how do you find enough reps for him? Last year, defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil was absolutely in love with CB K'Waun Williams as the nickel player, so I can't imagine that changing.
This offseason, the team committed big dollars to CB Tramon Williams. If it comes down to giving reps to a guy with high free agent dollars vs. a guy with a high draft investment, who do you pick, assuming both are doing well in camp? Williams will no doubt have the advantage from Day 1, go Gilbert's maturation process and staying humble will be key factors in his success this offseason.
Last, but not least, I'm interested in how quickly we can continue to reform QB Johnny Manziel into the starting quarterback of the Browns. As much as I'd like to believe in QB Josh McCown, he's never going to be a difference maker himself, and he's admitted as much. Last year at OTAs, the media was all over Manziel. This year, they'll probably be over him even more to pry as much information as they can about his stint in rehab.
Although the media has to strike the right balance between respecting privacy and getting the story out there, I think it'll be a big step forward for Manziel to openly discuss his story -- or at least an abbreviated version of it -- from Day 1, so that he can move on from those questions and continue focusing on football-related subjects when it comes to the media.