Friday, July 25, 2014
Camp competition: Guard, inside linebacker
By Pat McManamon
The final two positions where there will be serious competition for a starting role for the Cleveland Browns lie on each side of the ball.
At guard, it appears Joel Bitonio is penciled in already as the starter on the left side.
"We feel good about Bitonio," coach Mike Pettine said. "The other guard spot is a question. But we have some guys there who are competing."
Bitonio is a rookie the Browns celebrated drafting, a guy the team has the highest of hopes for. That he starts his career lined up between Joe Thomas and Alex Mack can only help him.
It's on the right side, where John Greco and Garrett Gilkey line up, that the most significant competition will take place.
Greco would seem to have the inside track, but Gilkey came on as the offseason progressed. He has to show he can get something accomplished fullspeed in pads, though, and he also has to start avoiding the fights he got into during minicamps.
Greco plays better than his publicity would say. He's a veteran with toughness and smarts.
Paul McQuistan, signed in the offseason, appears to be valuable for versatility and depth.
The final competition (along with quarterback, running back, receiver, cornerback and guard) lies at inside linebacker, where the Browns will have to trust that the scheme will help.
Because at inside linebacker they have one guy who struggled at times in 2013, and another who is a rookie.
The rookie is Chris Kirksey, a third-round pick who will be groomed inside and outside. The Browns surprisingly released Quentin Groves in the offseason, which meant Kirksey practiced at two spots after the personnel move.
Kirksey has the advantage of being a draft pick of this regime, but Craig Robertson has played. He started last season, and though at times he struggled in coverage, he does have game experience.
"I feel good about both those guys," Petine said. "Even if they end up sharing that job together, that makes both of them fulltime special teamers, which [special teams coach Chris] Tabor would be thrilled with."