Undrafted rookie wide receiver Taylor Gabriel has a roster spot
The Cleveland Browns Saturday readied their roster for the 2014 season opener in Pittsburgh in eight days by making 21 transactions to reach the NFL regular-season limit of 53 players.
The team terminated the contracts of four veteran players including 12-year veteran, wide receiver Nate Burleson; linebackers Zac Diles and Jamal Westerman; and running back Chris Ogbonnaya.
Cornerback Isaiah Trufant was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury that forced him to miss three of the Browns' four preseason games.
There were 15 players waived. The list includes: defensive backs Josh Aubrey and Leon McFadden, defensive linemen Calvin Barnett, Jacobbi McDaniel and Justin Staples; offensive linemen Reid Fragel, Garrett Gilkey, Donald Hawkins, Alex Parsons and Abasi Salimu; quarterback Connor Shaw; tight end/fullback MarQueis Gray; running back Dion Lewis; tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi; and wide receiver Willie Snead.
Wide receiver Marlon Moore was placed on the suspension list.
The Browns' 53-man roster includes:
Quarterbacks (3): Brian Hoyer, Johnny Manziel, Rex Grossman; running backs (3) : Ben Tate, Terrance West, Isaiah Crowell, fullback (1): Ray Agnew; wide receivers (5): Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin, Taylor Gabriel, Charles Johnson; tight ends (3): Jordan Cameron, Gary Barnidge, Jim Dray; offensive linemen (8): Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, John Greco, Mitchell Schwartz, Joel Bitonio, Paul McQuistan, Martin Wallace, Karim Barton.
Defensive linemen (7): Desmond Bryant, Armonty Bryant, John Hughes, Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, Phil Taylor, Billy Winn, Ahtyba Rubin; linebackers (8): Karlos Dansby, Barkevious Mingo, Craig Robertson, Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, Chris Kirksey, Tank Carder; Eric Martin; defensive backs (12): Joe Haden, Buster Skrine, Justin Gilbert, Aaron Berry, Pierre Desir, Robert Nelson, K'Waun Williams, Donte Whitner, Tashaun Gipson, Jim Leonhard, Johnson Bademosi, Jordan Poyer.
Kicker (1): Billy Cundiff; punter (1): Spencer Lanning; long snapper (1): Christian Yount.
Among the more notable aspects of the Browns' 53-man roster are:
Twelve defensive backs. The Browns are exceptionally heavy at this position, but that's not a surprise given the high premium that coach Mike Pettine places on the secondary in a defense that emphasizes pressure and press-man coverage.
"It's a big part of the system, just with how it's become such a passing league," Pettine said. "You need to carry a high number of DBs, especially corners."
Besides first-round draft pick Justin Gilbert and fourth-rounder Pierre Desir, two rookie free agents -- K'Waun Williams and Robert Nelson -- and veteran newcomer Aaron Berry join veterans Joe Haden, Buster Skrine at cornerback. The safeties include two newcomers, Donte Whitner and Jim Leonhard, along with Tashaun Gipson, Johnson Bademosi, and Jordan Poyer.
Five wide receivers. After the NFL announced its season-long suspension of Josh Gordon last Wednesday, there has been plenty of discussion about how the Browns would address this spot. One thing they aren't doing, at least for now, is going long here.
They cut veteran Nate Burleson, who missed the first three season games of the preseason with an injured hamstring.
"Nate is a true professional and it was a difficult decision for us." Pettine said. "Ultimately, his availability was a concern with all the time he missed and we liked what we saw in the other players at that position."
Undrafted free agent Taylor Gabriel made the roster, along with Charles Johnson, who was acquired last year despite recovering from a major knee injury.
"Gabriel's an explosive athlete, he's very strong for his size (5-foot-8 and 172 pounds)," Pettine said. "He has the ability to get off the line against press, which a lot of times you don't find with smaller guys. A lot of times, you have to put them off the ball or have him on the move (before the snap)."
The top two receivers are Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins, along with incumbent return specialist Travis Benjamin, who made a strong comeback from a torn ACL he suffered last season.
Rex Grossman is the third quarterback behind Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel. Grossman, a 12-year NFL veteran, has the best understanding of the offense of coordinator Kyle Shanahan, for whom he played when Shanahan worked in the same capacity in Washington. Grossman demonstrated as much during his preseason debut with the Browns last Thursday night.
"Rex is a veteran, he's played in this system, he's good for the (other) guys in the (quarterback) room, and he also showed that he can still throw it," Pettine said. "And that's the most important thing. He can still play."
A true fullback made the roster, something the Browns haven't had since Lawrence Vickers' final season on the team in 2010. Undrafted free agent Ray Agnew, a traditional fullback in every sense, is going to bring plenty of blocking muscle to help open holes for Ben Tate and Terrance West.
"Ray was another guy that I'd put in that category with Gabriel in the sense that if you watched how he handled himself, you'd never know he was a rookie, especially an undrafted one," Pettine said. "But he fits our commitment to wanting to run the football, he fits that classic mold where he brings an air of toughness."
It would be easy to assume that undrafted free agent Isiah Crowell forced his way onto the roster with his 102-yard rushing performance -- including a 48-yard touchdown -- against the Bears that easily ranked as the most dynamic showing of any player on the team this summer. However, the Browns used a larger body of work in deciding to keep Crowell over incumbents Chris Ogbonnaya and Dion Lewis, who returned from a season-ending broken leg last year and at one point seemingly had secured the third spot behind Tate and West.
"It wasn't something where he was on the outside looking in and, all of a sudden, he had that big night," Pettine said. "He had flashed at practice and he was a guy that we knew had that type of ability. But you still have to show it in games, and we had kind of earmarked (the Bears') game as one where we were going to feature him a little bit more. And, to his credit, he went out and performed."
Although the Browns made 21 transactions to reach the 53-man roster limit by Saturday's deadline, that does not necessarily mean they are finished with making moves.
"I think the 53 is always going to be fluid, especially at the start of the season." Pettine said. "Ray and his staff have done an outstanding job of keeping tabs on the league and I'm confident they will continue to make any moves that are necessary to give us the best possible 53."
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