NFL Nation: Owen Marecic

Running back Montario Hardesty reportedly was going to miss two to three games after having his knee scoped. The prognosis proved to be worse than expected.

The Cleveland Browns placed Hardesty on injured reserve, ending his season. With Dion Lewis going on IR on Monday, the top two backups to Trent Richardson are done for the season. Brandon Jackson and Miguel Maysonet are now listed as the reserve running backs on the team's depth chart.

Injuries have derailed Hardesty's career. He has injured the ACL in both of his knees, torn a calf muscle and dealt with a pulled hamstring. In 2010, the Browns traded two fifth-round picks to move up to select Hardesty in the second round.

To get down to the league limit of 75 players, the Browns waived seven players, including two recent draft picks: fullback Owen Marecic (2011 fourth-round) and offensive lineman Ryan Miller (2012 fifth round). Marecic had been replaced by Chris Ogbonnaya as the starting fullback.

Others waived were: linebacker Kendrick Adams, offensive lineman Dominic Alford, wide receiver Dominique Croom, defensive lineman Nicolas Jean-Baptiste and tight end Travis Tannahill. The Browns also placed offensive lineman Chris Faulk on the reserve-Non-Football Injury list.

Cleveland was awarded two players on waivers: outside linebacker Paul Hazel (Jacksonville) and punter Colton Schmidt (San Francisco).

AFC North depth chart musings

August, 5, 2013
8/05/13
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Three of the four AFC North teams released their "unofficial" depth charts because the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns kick off their preseason Thursday. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who open their preseason Sunday, haven't put out a depth chart.

Here are some thoughts on how the teams have their players stacked up ...

BALTIMORE RAVENS
CINCINNATI BENGALS
  • Brandon Ghee. Kirkpatrick, who's had a strong camp, should figure into the team's nickel defense.
  • The name that stuck out on offense was Orson Charles. The converted tight end is already ahead of John Conner on the fullback depth chart. Charles, who is more of an H-back, has been among the most pleasant surprises this camp. Chris Pressley, last year's starter, is on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list with a knee injury.
  • On special teams, Adam Jones is ahead of Brandon Tate on punt returns. Jones and Tate split time at this spot last season, but I always thought Jones was the more explosive and dangerous returner.
CLEVELAND BROWNS
  • Brandon Weeden listed as the starting quarterback. He is followed by Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer. This is how I foresee the depth chart looking heading into the regular season.
  • Not a good sign for 2011 fourth-round pick Owen Marecic. Chris Ogbonnaya, a third-down back for his career, is currently the starting fullback. He offers more versatility in Norv Turner's offense than Marecic, who was benched last year by the former coaching staff.
  • On the offensive line, the Browns have co-starters listed at left guard (John Greco and Jason Pinkston) and right guard (Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao). Given that the Browns signed Greco to a new contract, he is considered the favorite at left guard. Pinkston and Lauvao will compete for the right guard spot.
  • On defense, Jabaal Sheard is ahead of rookie first-round pick Barkevious Mingo at outside linebacker and Buster Skrine and Chris Owens are listed as co-starters at right cornerback. Rookie third-round pick Leon McFadden is behind Joe Haden at left cornerback. I project Owens and McFadden will continue to split time at right cornerback, and Skrine will get snaps at the slot corner.
Cleveland Browns fullback Owen Marecic was a surprise inactive for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers, putting a question mark at that position. There's a chance that the Browns could use tight end Alex Smith at fullback or go with single-back formations.

Starting defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (calf) will be sidelined for the second time in three weeks.

Here are the Browns inactives: DT Ahtyba Rubin (calf), WR Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring), CB Dimitri Patterson (ankle), RB Brandon Jackson, S Tashaun Gipson, FB Owen Marecic, and OL Jarrod Shaw.
BEREA, Ohio -- Few teams have more ground to make up after the NFL lockout than the Cleveland Browns.

With a new offense, a new defense and fresh faces on the roster and coaching staff, the Browns are a team in transition. Rookie head coach Pat Shurmur has a difficult task ahead of him. He is trying to overhaul the Browns after back-to-back 5-11 seasons under former coach Eric Mangini.

This is the second year for Browns president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert. But in many ways, 2011 feels like the year they officially hit the reset button.

Most of Cleveland's first week of training camp focused on instruction and installation.

"We're working with the players, we're getting used to their mannerisms and how we have to communicate with them," Shurmur said. "They're getting used to us, especially if we're getting a little anxious, a little uptight. It's been good. I think the key part to coaching is that there is a solid interaction. I feel like that's going on, and I'm seeing guys improving."

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeColt McCoy
AP Photo/Tony DejakColt McCoy has solid intangibles, but it's questionable whether he has the size and arm strength to succeed.
1. Is QB Colt McCoy the long-term solution?

It's unfair to judge a player on one week of practice. But I paid a lot of attention to McCoy this week, and I have some concerns.

The second-year quarterback was inconsistent. On Tuesday, McCoy had a poor practice. On Friday, he was better. There is a good chance that this is what you'll see from McCoy during the regular season.

McCoy has only eight starts under his belt. He is essentially halfway into his rookie year. He's also learning his second offense in two years.

Although McCoy isn't making excuses, expect some growing pains.

"You come out here and you have to be ready to play," McCoy said. "I feel like I'm in good shape. I felt like the guys around me -- offensive line, receivers, running backs -- I feel like overall everybody was in good shape and ready to work. For me, that's good. I need all the work I can get."

McCoy has intangibles and natural leadership ability. But no NFL quarterback wins on intangibles alone. McCoy's size and arm strength are two question marks he must overcome.

The Browns are "all in" with McCoy this year. If he has a solid season, the Browns could exceed expectations. But if McCoy falls apart, it could be another long season in Cleveland.

2. Can rookies make an immediate impact?

The Browns have the potential to start as many as four rookies in Week 1.

Rookie defensive tackle Phil Taylor, defensive end Jabaal Sheard, receiver Greg Little and fullback Owen Marecic are all vying for starting jobs. Barring injury, Taylor, Sheard and Marecic are virtual locks for the starting lineup. They already are working with the first team. Little is working with the first- and second-team offense behind starters Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie.

This could be a blessing and a curse for the Browns. Holmgren and Heckert believe they drafted solid, NFL-ready players for the second consecutive year. But the fact that this many rookies can start right away also is an indictment of Cleveland's thin roster.

Taylor has been the most impressive of the group. He arrived in camp four days late because of a contract dispute. But Taylor made his presence felt later in the week with his size, strength and ability to get up field. He could be a force next to fellow defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin.

"I am still learning and taking it all in," Taylor said. "I am learning every bit I can from the guys like Rubin. The guys that were behind me were helping me out as well."

3. Is running back Peyton Hillis a one-year wonder?

Hillis doesn't look like a one-year wonder. He was the most steady player in Cleveland's camp this week. He's is still running hard and catching the ball well out of the backfield. He's also not making mental mistakes in Cleveland's new offense.

Last year Hillis exploded on the scene with 1,177 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He instantly became Cleveland's most popular player. A heavy push by Browns fans put Hillis on the cover of "Madden NFL 12."

Production has never been an issue for Hillis. Injuries are the only concern.

"He's a pro, and pros -- especially at running back -- it's very important for them to hear it, see it and feel it," Shurmur said. "He's done a good job of getting in there and getting his reps. Make sure he's getting his work, try to eliminate any kind of little injury in there and then give him the ball. I think that's the important thing."

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Because veteran free agents were unable to practice until Thursday, rookie fifth-round pick Buster Skrine received a lot of reps as the nickel corner this week. Skrine displayed good speed and playmaking ability. He jumped a route in team drills Tuesday and got a pick-six off McCoy, his best play of the week.

Skrine is competitive and looks like a mini-Joe Haden. He probably will make the team as a late-round pick.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Massaquoi missed the entire first week of camp because of an ankle injury. The injury happened before the lockout was lifted. Therefore, the team and Massaquoi have been quiet about it.

Massaquoi is missing valuable practice time in Cleveland's West Coast offense. He has a lot of pressure as McCoy's No. 1 receiver. Timing between Massaquoi and McCoy will be vital this season.

Massaquoi caught 36 passes for 483 yards and two touchdowns last season. He needs much better production for Cleveland to be successful.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • [+] EnlargeD'Qwell Jackson
    AP Photo/Mark DuncanD'Qwell Jackson, who has battled injuries the past few seasons, has been making plays in camp.
    The Browns are a slow football team. Cleveland has decent size but definitely not enough blazers and game-changing athletes. I thought the Browns would be more aggressive in free agency to close the talent gap with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. But that wasn't the case. Keep an eye on team speed during the regular season. I think it will be an issue.
  • Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas is dominating Sheard in practice. Cleveland's coaching staff is putting Sheard, a rookie second-round pick, against Thomas to get him ready for the regular season. But Thomas is stonewalling Sheard at nearly every turn and had a pancake block in Friday's practice. Cleveland hopes Sheard will gradually improve by facing arguably the NFL's best left tackle.
  • Second-year running back Montario Hardesty isn't all the way back from knee surgery. The former second-round pick tore his ACL last year and missed the entire season. The Browns are counting on Hardesty to spell Hillis this year. But the team has been very cautious with Hardesty in practice. Hardesty has a lengthy track record of injuries in college and the pros.
  • A player who does look to be back from injury is linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. He's missed the past two seasons with back-to-back pectoral injuries but is active and making plays again in camp. When healthy, Jackson was one of Cleveland's top defensive players. He also has experience in a 4-3 defense and is seeing the field well. Jackson intercepted passes from McCoy by reading the quarterback's eyes in back-to-back practices.
  • Little's drops are a concern. He has good physical tools. But by my count, Little dropped at least five passes in practice this week. He had a reputation in college for drops. It's too early to say if it's lack of concentration or bad hands. Perhaps rust also is a factor. Little was suspended at the University of North Carolina all of last season.
  • Haden looks really good. He breaks up a lot of passes in team drills. Haden moves well and stays in good position. Last year Haden had a slow start at training camp as a rookie. That wasn't the case this year.
  • If Tony Pashos is anything, he's huge. The projected starting right tackle is expected to protect McCoy's front side this season. Pashos missed most of 2010 with an ankle injury. But the Browns are still high on him and hope he can patch up the right side of the offensive line, which is Cleveland's weakest area up front.
Every season there are several rookies who surprisingly make an immediate impact. Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers come to mind as such players last season in the AFC North.

So who are some middle- or late-round picks who could surprise and make an immediate impact in 2011? Here is an early preview:

Owen Marecic, FB, Cleveland Browns

Round: Fourth

Analysis: With Lawrence Vickers unlikely to return in free agency, you can already pencil in Marecic as the starting fullback in Cleveland. Early playing time means Marecic will have a golden opportunity to make an immediate impact. The Browns feel Marecic is a good fit for the West Coast offense. He has soft hands and also runs hard in short-yardage situations.

Jason Pinkston, OL, Browns

Round: Fifth

Analysis: Pinkston played offensive tackle at the University of Pittsburgh but could fit better as a guard in the pros. Either way, he will get plenty of opportunity considering the struggling right side of Cleveland's offensive line. Browns general manager Tom Heckert traded up to get Pinkston in the fifth round, which shows how much Cleveland was interested. Also keep an eye on 2010 third-round pick Shawn Lauvao, who showed a few flashes last year in limited playing time.

Dontay Moch, LB, Cincinnati Bengals

Round: Third

Analysis: Moch brings two things to the front seven of the Bengals' defense that the team definitely needs: Speed and the ability to rush the passer. Moch is strong in both areas and that could land him some early playing time, especially with Rey Maualuga expected to move inside this year. Moch is raw in other areas, but I could see Cincinnati's coaching staff using him early on obvious passing downs. If Moch works hard to learn the other nuances of being an NFL linebacker, such as dropping into pass coverage, he could eventually earn a starting job.

Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen, CBs, Steelers

Round: Third and fourth

Analysis: I didn't want to separate these two because they are competing for the same job. At the very least, Brown and Allen will be vying for an important role in Pittsburgh's sub packages. It's also possible a starting role could be open if unrestricted free agent Ike Taylor doesn't return. Based on Taylor's comments this week, it didn't sound like a slam dunk that he was returning to Pittsburgh. So Brown or Allen need to be ready to play early, just in case.

Jah Reid, OT, Baltimore Ravens

Round: Third

Analysis: Right tackle was perhaps Baltimore's biggest weakness during the second half of last season, and Baltimore addressed the need in the third round by taking Reid of Central Florida. The status of Baltimore offensive tackle Jared Gaither remains in flux without a new collective bargaining agreement. The Ravens say they're open to re-signing Gaither. But I believe both sides are heading for a mutual parting. If Gaither doesn't return, that leaves the right tackle spot wide open for Reid. The Ravens also could bring in a veteran to compete for the starting job.
Ike Taylor, Chad Ochocinco and Lawrence VickersAP PhotoDraft-day moves by their teams could mean Ike Taylor (Steelers), left, Chad Ochocinco (Bengals), middle, and Lawrence Vickers (Browns) will be wearing different uniforms next season.
While one dream was being made last week, another was coming to an end.

Saturday in California, former Stanford fullback Owen Marecic happily took a call from the Cleveland Browns in the fourth round. Marecic was excited to be entering the NFL and knowing his destination in 2011.

Soon after, current Browns fullback and pending free agent Lawrence Vickers' phone began buzzing constantly to let the veteran know Cleveland likely drafted his replacement.

"Honestly, my first reaction was 'Wow,'" Vickers told the AFC North blog this week. "I'm amazed. I was amazed I was still a free agent and wasn't signed [by the Browns] before the deadline. I didn't understand it. But at the same time I do understand, because nothing has ever come easy to me. So I was prepared for it.

"If they want me, they want me. If they don't, they don't. As a man, you have to be prepared for anything. But in the back of my mind I thought I would be in Cleveland."

Welcome to the harsh world of the NFL.

As teams were making draft picks last week, each move to replace players and plug holes could impact what AFC North teams do in free agency. Let's take a look at where each division team stands.

Cleveland Browns

Top draft picks: DT Phil Taylor, DE Jabaal Sheard, WR Greg Little, FB Owen Marecic

Potential impact: The Browns were in need of talented players and could have as many as four Week 1 starters in this year's draft class. Health permitting, Taylor and Sheard are heavy, heavy favorites to start at defensive tackle and defensive end, respectively. Cleveland doesn't have many bodies at those positions. Little will be thrown into a receiving corps that includes Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi. Both have struggled and Little, who missed last season at North Carolina because of a suspension, will have every chance to compete for a starting role. But Marecic was the pick that turned some heads. The Browns were eerily quiet about Vickers' pending free agency this offseason, and speculation began to grow that the new coaching staff didn't feel he was a good fit for the West Coast offense. Those thoughts were confirmed Saturday, when Cleveland made a surprise pick for a fullback in the fourth round. Vickers, one of the top blocking fullbacks in the NFL, is expected to test the market, where he will surely get interest. The Browns did a good job of filling holes but still need to address certain areas. Safety and the right side of the offensive line remain glaring needs.

Cincinnati Bengals

Top draft picks: WR A.J. Green, QB Andy Dalton, OLB Dontay Moch, G Clint Boling

Potential impact: Cincinnati's first two picks were not a surprise, but both were telling. It likely signaled the end of the Chad Ochocinco-Carson Palmer era with the Bengals. Both veterans, who have been the faces of the franchise for years, are under contract. But Ochocinco is in the final year of his deal and is expected to be traded or released following the acquisition of Green. Palmer wants to be traded or he plans to retire, which is why the Bengals drafted Dalton. Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis is already projecting Dalton to be the Week 1 starter. Cincinnati should get all the value it can for Ochocinco and Palmer. It's questionable whether any team is willing to trade and pay the approximate $6 million for one year with Ochocinco. But it takes only one team. With Palmer, there will be several teams lined up and ready to pounce if the Bengals put him on the market. Cincinnati's coaching staff appears ready to move on without Palmer, so it will come down to ownership. Bengals owner Mike Brown said recently that the team has no intention of trading Palmer. The Bengals did not draft a cornerback until the seventh round (Korey Lindsey), but that probably has no bearing on pending free agent Johnathan Joseph. Cincinnati isn't expected to retain Joseph, who will be one of the league's top free agents. But the team has Adam Jones for insurance to pair with starter Leon Hall. The Bengals also want starting tailback and pending free agent Cedric Benson back, as evidenced by the team not drafting a replacement.

Baltimore Ravens

Top draft picks: CB Jimmy Smith, WR Torrey Smith, OT Jah Reid, WR Tandon Doss

Potential impact: The Ravens took one of the biggest risks in the draft by selecting Smith of Colorado. He has a long list of off-the-field issues at Colorado, but the Ravens feel confident Smith will stay out of trouble. In terms of talent, Baltimore landed a player with the potential to be the team's first shutdown corner since Chris McAlister. Smith is expected to start right away, and this impacts two pending free agents in Josh Wilson and Chris Carr. Wilson played well for Baltimore once he earned the starting job in the second half of the 2010 season. Carr was a backup, but a solid presence in the locker room. With the pickup of Smith, Wilson and Carr are no longer huge priorities in free agency. The Ravens are getting Domonique Foxworth back from a knee injury and Lardarius Webb is still on the roster. The pick of Torrey Smith in the second round fills a need for a speedy receiver to pair with Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin. He is expected to fill the No. 3 receiver role T.J. Houshmandzadeh will leave behind. Ravens coach John Harbaugh also spoke highly of Reid, the team's third-rounder. Former starting offensive tackle Jared Gaither was injured last season and has been in the doghouse for quite some time and isn't expected to return. In terms of holes, the Ravens still need an impact pass-rushing threat to pair with Pro Bowl defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Top draft picks: DE Cameron Heyward, OT Marcus Gilbert, CB Curtis Brown, CB Cortez Allen

Potential impact: The Steelers stayed true to form by drafting for depth in the first two rounds with Heyward and Gilbert. Barring injury, both players will be put in the rotation but are not expected to start. But the third and fourth rounds are where things got interesting for Pittsburgh. The Steelers went with cornerbacks in back-to-back rounds with Brown and Allen. They hope one or both rookies can make an immediate impact. That might be asking a lot for the reigning AFC champions. Brown was the second-best corner on his team at the University Texas to Aaron Williams, on whom the Steelers passed in the first round. Allen played at a small school (Citadel) and will make a significant jump to the NFL. All of these factors increase the value of Ike Taylor, who is Pittsburgh's biggest free agent. The Steelers' No. 1 corner would fill an important starting role and take a lot of pressure off the team's young corners. That way Brown, Allen, Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler can all compete for reserve roles and develop at a more gradual pace. The price tag will be the biggest question. The going rate for solid cornerbacks this offseason has been about $10 million per season. It's doubtful the Steelers are willing to pay that much to retain Taylor. Also look for the Steelers to fill their kicker positions in free agency and perhaps add another backup tailback to replace Mewelde Moore.
Cleveland Browns fullback and pending free agent Lawrence Vickers said his phone began buzzing constantly Saturday afternoon and he wasn't sure why. Soon after, Vickers was notified the Browns drafted Stanford's Owen Marecic in the fourth round, which likely signaled the end of Vickers' tenure in Cleveland.

Over the past five seasons, Vickers has developed into one of the NFL's top fullbacks. Most recently Vickers helped pave the way for Browns running back Peyton Hillis to have a career year (1,177 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns) in 2010.

[+] EnlargeLawrence Vickers
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky"I wasn't asked to catch the ball and go out in the flats and run routes, because that wasn't how our offense was," Lawrence Vickers said. "Now people are lying and people think I can't catch. I guess I shouldn't have started knocking people out."
But with the Browns switching to a West Coast offense under rookie head coach Pat Shurmur, they appear ready to move in another direction by drafting Marecic. Vickers, who is training in his hometown of Houston, Texas, told ESPN.com's AFC North blog that he was shocked by the news.

"Honestly, my first reaction was 'Wow,'’" Vickers said in a telephone interview Sunday. "I'm amazed. I was amazed I was still a free agent and wasn't signed [by the Browns] before the deadline. I didn't understand it. But at the same time I do understand because nothing has ever come easy to me. So I was prepared for it.

"If they want me, they want me. If they don't, they don't. As a man, you have to be prepared for anything. But in the back of my mind I thought I would be in Cleveland."

With free agency on ice due to labor uncertainty, Vickers said he's still not 100 percent certain he won't return. But it's sure looking that way. According to Vickers, he was never tendered a contract before the lockout. Cleveland has been unwilling to speak on player contracts since the lockout began in March.

But using a fourth-round pick on Vickers' position speaks volumes. With the West Coast offense focusing on multiple receivers and multiple tight ends, there's not enough room for two fullbacks on Cleveland's roster.

Vickers, who was used primarily as a run blocker, scoffs at the idea that he cannot play in a West Coast offense.

"I wasn't asked to catch the ball and go out in the flats and run routes, because that wasn't how our offense was," Vickers explained. "Now people are lying and people think I can't catch. I guess I shouldn't have started knocking people out (laughs)."

Vickers' powerful blocking and blue-collar work ethic made him one of the most popular players with the Browns. Vickers said if this offseason is his farewell to Cleveland, he will always look back fondly on his time with the Browns and especially his bond with the fans.

"They love hard-working people and that's what I love about Cleveland: It's nothing but hard-working people there," Vickers said. "I am appreciative of everything I have, and that's why me and Cleveland fans vibe. You will never hear me say anything bad about them, because it's a mutual respect."

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