Browns Open Training Camp Once Again With QB Questions

(Berea) - It was the same old song Wednesday when the Cleveland Browns reported to their training and administrative complex for the start of another training camp.

Training camp features 15 practices that are open to fans, including the Orange & Brown Scrimmage at FirstEnergy Stadium.

For yet another summer, the Browns enter camp wondering who their quarterback will be when they open the season against the division-rival Steelers on Sept. 10.

The Browns historically (hysterically?) start rookie quarterbacks before they are ready. It happened with Tim Couch in 1999, Charlie Frye in 2005, Colt McCoy in 2010, Brandon Weeden in 2012, Johnny Manziel in 2014 and Cody Kessler last year. Time will tell if the same thing happens to 2017 second-round pick DeShone Kizer.

The Browns are hopeful Kizer can be their quarterback of the future. He will likely start training camp third on the depth chart behind Kessler and Brock Osweiler, but he will have the opportunity to do a lot of convincing in six weeks. Head coach Hue Jackson acknowledged that Kessler will be the quarterback with the first team for the first practice. Said Jackson, "He deserves a chance to walk out there first."

Kessler knows the offense better than Osweiler and Kizer simply because this is his second season running it. The problem with not having an established starting quarterback at the beginning of campis the would-be starter is robbed of snaps. 

It will be interesting to see how much practice time Osweiler gets. He was 5-2 as a starter with the Broncos and 8-6 with Houston before the Texans traded his contract to the Browns this past offseason in an unusual deal. He is the only quarterback on the roster that has won in the NFL and probably the best one on the team - at least for now.

Kizer was selected after the Browns used three first-round picks to select defensive end Myles Garrett, safety Jabrill Peppers and tight end David Njoku.

TRAINING CAMP: Cleveland Browns Training and Administrative Complex; Berea, Ohio

COACH: Hue Jackson 2nd season with Browns. 1-15 overall, 3rd season as NFL head coach, 9-23 overall


2016 finish: 4th AFC North (1-15)


TOTAL OFFENSE: 311.0 (30th)

RUSHING: 107.0 (19th)

PASSING: 204.0 (28th)

TOTAL DEFENSE: 392.4 (31st)

RUSHING: 142.7 (31st)

PASSING: 249.8 (21st)


All times EASTERN

Aug. 10, NEW ORLEANS (Thu), 8:00

Aug. 21, N.Y. GIANTS (Mon), 8:00

Aug. 26, at Tampa Bay (Sat), 7:30

Aug. 31, at Chicago (Thu), 8:00


QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Cody Kessler. Backups - Brock Osweiler, DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan.

Kessler was 0-8 as a starter last season. He is likely to begin training camp with the first-team, but he doesn't have the arm or size to be the long-term answer for head coach Hue Jackson. Osweiler deserves the chance to show he can win the job, and then it's up to him to hold off Kizer as long as he can. Coaches have gone out of their way to say Osweiler has been a good guy in the building. It's a different picture than the one painted of him in Houston, where he allegedly quarreled with Texans head coach Bill O'Brien.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Isaiah Crowell. Backups - Duke Johnson, Matthew Dayes, George Atkinson III, Terrance McGee, FB Danny Vitale.

The Browns want to run more than they did a year ago, but for that to happen they have to keep the score close. They naturally became pass-happy last year when they quickly fell behind by two touchdowns. Crowell just missed 1,000 yards last year, finishing with 952 yards on 198 carries a 4.8-yard average. He is motivated this year because he can be an unrestricted free agent next winter.  Jackson wants to get Johnson the ball in open territory so Johnson can use his elusiveness. Vitale has to improve as a receiver out of the backfield to become more than a short-yardage blocker.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - David Njoku. Backups - Seth DeValve, Randall Telfer, Taylor McNamara, J.P. Holtz.

The Browns cut Gary Barnidge, who caught 55 passes last year, after trading back into the first round to select Njoku. Njoku caught 43 passes at Miami last year and at 6-foot-4, looks the part. He and DeValve give the Browns a strong 1-2 punch at a position Jackson likes to exploit tight ends in his offensive scheme. They can make up for what on paper is a thin group at wide receiver. DeValve, though he caught only 10 passes last year, came on strong at the end of the season. Telfer has had some health issues with his foot and ankle, but he is an adequate blocker when healthy.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt, Ricardo Louis. Backups - Rashard Higgins, Mario Alford, Josh Boyce, Rannell Hall, Jordan Leslie, Richard Mullaney, Jordan Payton, James Wright.

The wide receivers the Browns are taking to training camp caught a total of eight touchdown passes last year, and five of them were made by Britt when he played for the Rams. Coleman caught the other three as a Browns rookie. Britt and Coleman will be the top two targets for whoever ends up playing quarterback and that quarterback will need at least one other to jump out from a group of obscure names. Louis, in his second season, caught 18 passes last year. The Browns signed Britt after losing Terrelle Pryor to the Redskins in free agency. Pryor, in his first full season as a wide receiver, caught 77 passes for 1,007 yards in 2016. Pryor will be missed. Keep an eye on Hall. He was having a fine camp until a knee injury ruined his season.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Joe Thomas, LG Joel Bitonio, C JC Tretter, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Shon Coleman. Backups - C/T Cameron Erving, G/C John Greco, G Chris Barker, LG Spencer Drango, C Anthony Fabiano, C Gabe Ikard, T Rod Johnson, C Marcus Martin, LT Matt McCants, C Austin Reiter, RT Zach Sterup.

Executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown transformed the offensive line on the first day of free agency by signing Zeitler from the Bengals and Tretter from the Packers. Thomas is back for his 11th season, aiming for his 11th straight Pro Bowl. Bitonio is coming off foot surgery and conservatively has set the start of the regular season as his goal for returning. Coleman and Erving will battle at right tackle for the only unsettled spot on the line. Erving and Greco provide flexibility as backups to cover multiple positions. The Browns gave up 66 sacks last season - one of the many reasons they finished 1-15. That wasn't all on the offensive line, but until the blocking improves, Browns quarterbacks will continue to have a short life span. The last Browns quarterback to start 16 games was Tim Couch in 2002.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - DLE Emmanuel Ogbah, DT Desmond Bryant, NT Danny Shelton, DRE Myles Garrett. Backups -- DRE Jamie Meder, DLE Carl Nassib, NT Caleb Brantley, DT Trevon Coley, DRE Xavier Cooper, DE Jamal Marcus, DT Larry Ogunjobi, DRE Nate Orchard, DE Karter Schult.

No unit on the Browns has had a bigger transformation than the defensive line. Garrett, Ogunjobi and Brantley are rookies and Bryant is back after missing all of 2016 with a pectoral injury. Orchard is back after missing last season with an ankle injury. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is switching to a 4-3 base defense. Ogbah and Garrett, with Bryant rushing from the inside, could move the Browns from one of the weakest pass rush teams (26 sacks in 2016) to at least the top half of the league. Shelton, in his third season, seemed quicker than ever in minicamp. Brantley, Meder, Nassib, Orchard and Ogunjobi will be key parts of the rotation to keep Garrett, Ogbah and Shelton fresh for the fourth quarter.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Jamie Collins, MLB Christian Kirksey, SLB Cam Johnson. Backups - MLB Tank Carder, WLB Dominique Alexander, SLB Joe Schobert, OLB B.J. Bello, MLB James Burgess, MLB Ladell Fleming, OLB Kenneth Olugbode.

The Browns will be in trouble at linebacker if anything happens to Kirksey or Collins, because the position is thin after them. However, both got contract extensions in the offseason, so the coaching staff is willing to live with the results. Kirksey led the Browns with 148 tackles - third best in the league according to Kirksey has the ability to slice into the backfield and tackle the runner behind the line of scrimmage. He doesn't pad his stats by making all his tackles after a five-yard gain. Collins has emerged as a team leader after being acquired from the Patriots in a trade last Oct. 3. He made 69 tackles in eight games and showed he can pressure the quarterback. Still, run defense has to improve the Browns gave up an average of 4.6 yards a carry. Johnson started nine games at outside linebacker last year and made 29 tackles. The Browns would like more production from that spot. Carder is one of the Browns most consistent players on special teams.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Joe Haden, RCB Jamar Taylor, FS David Kindred, SS Jabrill Peppers. Backups - CB Jason McCourty, CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun, FS Trey Caldwell, RCB Marcus Burley, SS Ibraheim Campbell, FS Justin Currie, CB J.D. Harmon, CB Alvin Hill, CB Darius Hillary, CB Najee Murray, SS Kai Nacua, FS Ed Reynolds III, SS Calvin Pryor III, CB Channing Stribling, CB Howard Wilson.

The 2017 training camp is going to be very important for the Browns secondary for numerous reasons; Haden is trying to bounce back from two sub-par seasons, neither safety position has a locked in starter and the nickel back is likely to be a battle between McCourty and Boddy-Calhoun. The Browns gave up 36 touchdown passes last year - a franchise record that contributed to Ray Horton being fired as defensive coordinator. Kindred and Peppers, the rookie from Michigan, are penciled in as the starters at safety, but they will be challenged by Reynolds and Campbell. Defensive coordinator Williams says the Browns will work daily on tackling. The secondary in particular needs help in that area, because instead of wrapping up they would rather go for the big hit, which often leads to missed tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Cody Parkey, P Britton Colquitt, LS Charley Hughlett, KOR Mario Alford, PR Jabrill Peppers, K Zane Gonzalez.

Hughlett and Colquitt are locked in after signing long-term contracts in the offseason. Hughlett is what a coach wants in a long-snapper - a player that goes unnoticed because he does his job so well. Colquitt is steady and has a knack for feathering the ball inside the 20. Parkey and Gonzalez will battle it out for the kicking job throughout the preseason. Unless one fails miserably, it is a battle that could go on all summer. Peppers is eager to return punts. Alford accelerates quickly and has enough speed to break a long return.

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

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