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10 Burning questions for training camp

Posted Jul 16, 2014

We are 10 days away from the beginning of Browns football

Each day next week, ClevelandBrowns.com will have exclusive previews on the quarterback, running back and wide receiver competitions, plus Mike Pettine’s final thoughts before his first training camp.

Things will culminate Thursday, July 24th on WKYC for our official Browns Training Camp preview show at 7 p.m.

It’s Wednesday, which means we are officially 10 days away from training camp. These 10 questions will be recurring themes to keep an eye on all throughout July and August.

1)      How much read-option will we see?

With the Redskins, a large portion of Kyle Shanahan’s play calls gave the quarterback the option to run it, keep it, or throw it. It spurred one of the NFL’s most potent rushing attacks for two straight years. Will Shanahan keep it is a major installment of his offense, or use it more as a wrinkle now that he’s in Cleveland?

2)      What will the defensive line rotation look like?

Don’t get your head wrapped up around which players start on the defensive line. Focus more on snap counts. Who will be on the first-down run stuffing unit? What will the third-down pass rushing personnel grouping look like? Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin will likely lead in snap counts.  But in terms of pass rushers, things seem more wide open than you might think. Desmond Bryant and John Hughes will have the upper hand to begin training camp, but we’ve raved about both Billy Winn and undrafted free agent Calvin Barnett.

3)      How much wide receiver will Jordan Cameron play?

If there’s one thing Mike Pettine brings up in nearly every interview he conducts about Shanahan, it’s the way the offensive coordinator adapts his system. Cameron looked way too beastly in space during seven-on-seven drills in minicamp to not at least experiment with the Pro Bowler in the slot or even on the outside the edge. Shanahan has arguably never had a tight end with a skill set as elaborate as Cameron’s

4)      Buster Skrine vs. Justin Gilbert

First of all: will this even be a competition? Skrine was one of the Browns’ most improved players last season and he has continued that trend this year in OTAs and minicamp. That’s not knocking the ultra-athletic Gilbert, who admitted he needs to rely more on his technique instead of speed when training camp comes around. We’ve noted Skrine simply seems much more comfortable in Jim O’Neil’s island-style of man coverage rather than a multitude of zones. This defense could be where Skrine reaches his potential. Gilbert has ground to make up. Remember, Joe Haden didn’t start until Week Eight of his rookie season. Either way we probably will be seeing Gilbert’s name called in some fashion come September.

5)      Can the Browns offensive line be dominant?

The talent jumps off the page at you. Many consider Joe Thomas to be the best left tackle in the NFL, if not the best offensive lineman in the league. There are not many center’s more reliable than Pro Bowler Alex Mack. It says something that Mitchell Schwartz has no competition at right tackle, generally one of the most competitive positions in training camps across the league. The guard position is a little cloudier – John Greco, Joel Bitonio, Jason Pinkston and Garrett Gilkey – but they are a capable unit. Lots of teams would love to have the Browns guard play. Not to keep harping on Shanahan, but his offensive lines were merely average in D.C. The Redskins were constantly shuffling in new players on their line, besides left tackle Trent Williams. There is potential for Cleveland’s offensive line to be one of the biggest strengths on the roster.  

6)      Second-half collapses

In 10 games last season, the Browns either led or the score was tied at half time. Their subsequent 4-12 record convicts several things: A coaching staff who got outsmarted and players who lacked a killer instinct. Or maybe, as Pettine has said, is the Browns were waiting for somebody else to make a play. “We can’t say, ‘I hope the offense scores here that means we don’t have to go back out on the field,’” said Pettine. “We want our guys with two minutes left in the game to say, this is our wheelhouse. They hung a curveball and we’re hitting it out.” Pettine seems to be tackling this problem head on.

7)      Barkevious Mingo’s leap forward

Pound-for-pound, it’s hard to argue another player more athletic on the Cleveland Browns’ roster. One of the coaching staff’s biggest challenges is turning Mingo’s flashes of brilliance in 2013 into consistent plays that disrupt rhythm for offenses. Mingo has every tool to be a player offensive coordinators must plan around. If the coaches put Mingo in the proper places and he feels more comfortable in the 3-4 hybrid defense, his 10 tackles for a loss and five sacks could both double in 2014.

8)      Who is the Browns' return man?

Common sense says Travis Benjamin, who singlehandedly stole the spotlight with big return after big return in the Browns Thursday night football win last season against Buffalo. But there will be competition. Some will angle you don’t want starters endangering themselves as return men. But you look at the Vikings with Cordarrelle Patterson and the Seahawks considering using Earl Thomas; you want big plays wherever you can find them. Skrine and Gilbert both are outstanding kick returners. Andrew Hawkins has the shiftiness to excel as a punt returner. And there are young players like Royce Adams and Chandler Jones who might get a look-see.

9)      Jabaal Sheard could be the most important player on the defense

Our reasoning here.

10)   Speaking of defense …

We made it 900 words into an article without mentioning Joe Haden, Karlos Dansby or Donte Whitner. For the first time in Haden’s career, he is flanked by some of the most respected defenders in the league. You’ll read this all season long: Dansby’s knack for big plays in coverage is going to force more three-and-outs than you are used to seeing. Guarding elite tight ends won’t be as worrisome to the Browns thanks to Dansby. And Whitner…where do we even begin with him? As much as Pettine and Ray Farmer have changed the attitude in Berea, Whitner is right behind them. He expects to have a top-five defense. Most importantly, he expects to win.