After the Browns starters play for about a quarter in the preseason finale Thursday night against the Chicago Bears, several backups will take center stage for their last auditions before the ax swings.
The Browns and the other 31 NFL teams must trim their 75-man rosters to 53 players before 4 p.m. Saturday, so it’s an appropriate time to review the status of each position group.
But remember to keep three points in mind.
1. For some players, Thursday’s game will make or break their chances to avoid the chopping block.
2. Saturday’s cuts won’t form the final roster because Browns General Manager Ray Farmer likely will claim players off waivers beginning Sunday.
3. Projecting a 53-man roster is akin to filling out a March Madness bracket. Guessing every move correctly would be a miracle, and there will inevitably be some upsets.
Anyway, my views on the roster heading into the last exhibition game are encapsulated below. Players are listed to match their perceived pecking order. The number of players projected to be kept at each position is in parentheses.
Safe: Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel. On the bubble: Rex Grossman. Long shot: Undrafted rookie Connor Shaw.
Breakdown: Grossman has yet to appear in an exhibition game, but he’s expected to play Thursday against his former team. As long as he proves to be in good enough shape and makes it through healthy, I expect him to make the team. If he wrecks this chance, the Browns might go with just two quarterbacks on the active roster. But Grossman, 34, was signed two weeks ago to help Hoyer and Manziel comprehend the intricacies of Kyle Shanahan’s scheme because he spent the past five seasons with the offensive coordinator. If he left now, he’d have unfinished business. As for Shaw, he’s a prime candidate for the practice squad, provided he clears waivers.
Safe: Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin and undrafted rookie Taylor Gabriel.
On the bubble: Nate Burleson and Charles Johnson. Long shots: Marlon Moore and undrafted rookie Willie Snead. Reserve/suspended list: Josh Gordon.
Breakdown: No matter who survives Saturday’s cuts, the weakest position group on the team will likely evolve via waiver claims, signings off practice squads and perhaps even a trade. With the NFL upholding its season-long suspension of Gordon on Wednesday, Farmer must do something to find someone who can run routes and catch the ball. A strained hamstring has prevented Burleson from playing in the first three exhibition games. He needs to get on the field. If he fails to answer the bell, Johnson should leapfrog him.
Running backs (four)
Safe: Ben Tate, rookie Terrance West and Dion Lewis. On the bubble: Undrafted rookie Ray Agnew and Chris Ogbonnaya. Long shot: Undrafted rookie Isaiah Crowell.
Breakdown: It’s difficult to count out Ogbonnaya because of his versatility and value on special teams. But I also believe Shanahan likes the idea of having a traditional fullback in his offense, and Agnew has impressed in that role. This could come down to Thursday’s game and how the coaching staff really wants to use MarQueis Gray, who’s adopted a hybrid role as a tight end/fullback. Right now, I’d pick Agnew to join Tate, West and Lewis. Crowell is another candidate for the practice squad.
Tight ends (four)
Safe: Jordan Cameron, Gary Barnidge, Jim Dray and Gray. Long shot: Emmanuel Ogbuehi.
Breakdown: No mystery.
Safe: Left tackle Joe Thomas, center Alex Mack, rookie left guard Joel Bitonio, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, right guard John Greco, guard Garrett Gilkey and guard/tackle Paul McQuistan. On the bubble: right tackle Reid Fragel, left tackle Martin Wallace, undrafted rookie guard Donald Hawkins and undrafted rookie guard Karim Barton. Long shots: center Alex Parsons and undrafted rookie tackle Abasi Salimu. Reserve/non-football injury: center/guard Nick McDonald (wrist). Injured reserve: tackle/guard Michael Bowie (shoulder).
Breakdown: Fragel and Wallace are my picks to fill the final two spots.
Safe: Nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin, end Phil Taylor, end Desmond Bryant, end Armonty Bryant and end John Hughes. On the bubble: End Billy Winn and nose tackle Ishmaa’ily Kitchen. Long shots: Undrafted rookie nose tackle Jacobbi McDaniel and end Calvin Barnett.
Breakdown: Winn and Kitchen should make the team, but they might be susceptible to upsets. Winn missed significant time throughout the summer with injuries. But with Desmond Bryant recovering from a recent wrist surgery, the Browns would be thin without Winn. Several of these guys can play nose tackle or end, but Kitchen is limited to nose. McDaniel is another pure nose tackle, but he had an impressive camp and can be stashed on the practice squad. Dipping into this deep position group for trade bait would make sense.
Safe: Karlos Dansby, Barkevious Mingo, Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, rookie Chris Kirksey and Craig Robertson. On the bubble: Zac Diles, Jamaal Westerman, Justin Staples and Tank Carder. Long shot: Eric Martin. Injured reserve: Darius Eubanks (shoulder).
Breakdown: Injuries forced Carder to miss significant practice time, so he might be in trouble. Diles seems to have an edge over him at inside linebacker. Westerman and Staples will vie for the final spot for an outside linebacker. Westerman’s experience in coach Mike Pettine’s schemes makes him the favorite.
Safe: Joe Haden, rookie Justin Gilbert, Buster Skrine, Isaiah Trufant and rookie Pierre Desir. On the bubble: Aaron Berry. Long shots: Leon McFadden, undrafted rookie K’Waun Williams and undrafted rookie Robert Nelson.
Breakdown: Berry will probably make the team, especially with Skrine coming back from recent thumb surgery. Pettine said Desir could miss the start of the season with an injured knee, so the fourth-round draft pick could land on IR and be designated to return. That would open a spot for someone else.
Safe: Donte Whitner, Tashaun Gipson and Jim Leonhard. On the bubble: Jordan Poyer, Johnson Bademosi and Josh Aubrey.
Breakdown: Poyer is my pick to secure the fourth spot. If Desir does receive an IR designation, I believe Bademosi would benefit.
Safe: Kicker Billy Cundiff, punter Spencer Lanning and long snapper Christian Yount.
Breakdown: They’re uncontested.
By Nate Ulrich - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
©2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
Visit the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) at www.ohio.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services