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Five key issues other than quarterback facing the Browns in OTAs

May 21, 2012 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi


The Morning Kickoff …

Getting down to business: Tomorrow is the first day the Browns assemble on the field as a team for organized practices. Technically, these OTAs are voluntary, but nobody is expected to boycott them.

They will have a total of 10 OTAs over the next month, plus five practices in coach Pat Shurmur’s mandatory three-day minicamp June 5-7. Last night, receiver Greg Little Tweeted: Back in the land excited to get on the field this week a start of great things to come this season.

Until the Browns do something with Colt McCoy, the quarterback situation will stay front and center. But there are other issues the Browns must address, and this is the time to start sorting them out.

1. Is Sheldon Brown a cornerback, a free safety, or a combination of both?

Brown is 33. He still has a lot to offer, but running with receivers seven years younger is not a strong suit. The Browns have added youth to the back end of the cornerback position in Buster Skrine, James Dockery and Trevin Wade. Brown’s position in 2012 may come down to two questions: Who’s the better cornerback, Brown or Dimitri Patterson? And who’s the better safety, Brown or Usama Young? If they intend to transition Brown to safety, now is the time to do it.

2. Which linebacker will replace Scott Fujita for the first three games of the season?

Fujita was suspended the first three games for his involvement in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal in the 2009 season. With about $645,000 at stake, Fujita will appeal and litigate to the end. But the Browns have to locate his successor, anyway, because he is 33. Kaluka Maiava, one of the few Eric Mangini draft picks still on the roster, filled in when Fujita broke a hand last year. Rookie draft picks James-Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho will compete with him, with Johnson being the favorite.

3. Who will replace three-technique tackle Phil Taylor?

Taylor’s torn pectoral muscle will keep him out a minimum of six months. At the very least, somebody else will play the tackle position next to Ahtyba Rubin for the first 12 games. Scott Paxson is the veteran backup who will probably open OTAs as the starter. Rookie draft picks John Hughes and Billy Winn have a chance to beat him out as the starter. Winn is more suited to the position but is 30 pounds lighter than Taylor. Signing a veteran replacement seems like a good idea.

4. Can Mohamed Massaquoi be the player the Browns need him to be?

President Mike Holmgren singled out Massaquoi as a key player after the Browns failed to land a veteran free agent or a rookie in the top three rounds of the draft. Massaquoi has been a meek receiver since Pittsburgh headhunter James Harrison laid him out in a 2010 game. He reported to training camp last year with a fracture on his foot and, except for a game-winning TD catch against Miami, failed to make a mark. The Browns are begging for a No. 2 receiver behind presumed No. 1 Greg Little. The most crucial months of Massaquoi’s career start now.

5. Does Montario Hardesty have a future with the Browns?

Two years of injuries made GM Tom Heckert’s gamble on injury-prone Hardesty in the 2010 draft look like a losing one. With the trade up and drafting of Trent Richardson, the starting job is not up for competition. Hardesty is just another face now, competing for a backup role. But he doesn’t have the versatility of third-down specialists Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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