A look at key Cleveland Browns positions as training camp approaches, starting with wide receivers. And starting with a simple assumption: The quarterback position will be closely watched by everyone.
The Browns receiver spot is jumbled, with or without Josh Gordon.
“There’s some talented guys,” coach Mike Pettine said during a lengthy interview on Monday. “But there’s not much cohesion there as far as guys playing together.”
Which is a problem, and it’s a problem complicated by the fact every player on the roster is learning a new system, and by the fact the Browns don’t know what they can or should expect as far as Gordon is concerned because they don’t know if he’ll be suspended for the season, part of it or not at all.
It leads to some thorny questions for a coaching staff.
Do the Browns give Gordon the usual time with the starters in the expectation he might play? Or do they rotate in others more because he might not play?
If they give Gordon the usual time, that affects timing with new receivers working with a new quarterback. If he winds up suspended, every receiver is behind.
If the Browns hold back on Gordon’s reps and he avoids a ban then his timing is affected -- though it’s tempered some by the reality he played with Brian Hoyer last season.
It’s a messy situation that creates a balancing act any coach would have wanted settled before camp. But that’s not going to happen. Not with Gordon’s hearing scheduled in the next two weeks -- with a possible appeal to follow. At least when the hearing is concluded the Browns will some inkling what to expect.
The ripple effect from Gordon is obvious immediately. If he plays, he and Austin would appear to be the starters, with Hawkins the natural choice for the slot/third position.
If Gordon does not play, Hawkins would be next up, except it takes him out of the slot, where he gives the Browns a significant matchup advantage. That could mean elevating Burleson or an unproven guy like Johnson -- because the Browns might want to keep Hawkins at the slot, where he was so effective in the offseason.
Pettine admitted the team was ultra-careful with Austin in OTAs, but he will be “ready to go” in camp.
Johnson has the physique, but nobody has seen him.
Burleson is a veteran good guy, but he has struggled with injuries the past two seasons.
The rest are all from Missouri. The Browns want them to “show me” what they can do.
Teams have found receivers in all shapes and sizes and places. Certainly nobody expected Gordon to have the kind of impact he did a year ago. So even without him the Browns might find players.
The problem is that as camp opens it’s a jumbled position with Gordon, and without him it becomes even more jumbled.
“We want to get that settled very quickly,” Pettine said.