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Despite a reshaped Greg Little, Browns receiving corps is still without a dominant performer

May 23, 2012 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi


The Morning Kickoff …

Sizing up the receiver situation: Browns coach Pat Shurmur didn’t hesitate in naming Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi his top two receivers if the season started today.

Little looks like he dedicated the offseason to reshaping his body in an effort to add quickness.

“He looks much leaner, and he was running around well,” Shurmur said after Tuesday’s first OTA practice. “I think it’s his first true offseason as a pro and I think what he has done is he has taken good care of his body. I think he has worked on his diet and nutrition and has gotten himself in shape to come out here and run a lot.”

That’s fine, but Little has to reduce his drops, has to show fearlessness in the middle of the field and has to make more yards after the catch to establish himself as a playmaker.

Massaquoi has to stay healthy, get over the 2010 cheap shot by James Harrison, use his body to his advantage, and quit giving up on balls that are slightly off the mark to validate President Mike Holmgren’s assertion that he is a key player in the receiving corps.

Of the others, Josh Cribbs appears to be fading as an integral receiving option by the coaching staff … Oklahoma State undrafted rookie Josh Cooper looks like a formidable challenger to slot receiver Jordan Norwood … and towering Carlton Mitchell could be poised to finally exploit his physical talents. Mitchell could be a wild-card surprise if he has an injury-free preseason.

Ultimately, though, there is no dominant receiver on the roster.

The Sheldon Brown conundrum: In the last two days, GM Tom Heckert and Shurmur have shot down the idea of Sheldon Brown moving from cornerback to safety. Brown is 33. He is a positive force in the locker room and still is a fearless tackler. But he has obviously lost a step or two in coverage.

Brown’s base salary of $3.7 million in 2012 trails only five others on the team – left tackle Joe Thomas ($10.5 million), defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin ($7.7 million), cornerback Joe Haden ($5.765 million), linebacker Chris Gocong ($4.5 million) and kicker Phil Dawson ($3.81 million).

With Dimitri Patterson getting a bump up to $2.95 million, the Browns this year are shelling out $12.415 million to their top three cornerbacks.

“Sheldon Brown is a corner,” Shurmur said. “He is an outstanding player at corner and to move him to safety is not something that we are planning to do.”

That means the free safety competition will come down to 2011 free agent pickup Usama Young and 2011 seventh-round draft pick Eric Hagg. Interestingly, Hagg worked with the No. 1 defense on Tuesday.

Odds and ends: Kicker Phil Dawson is skipping the voluntary OTA sessions but has informed the Browns he will not miss the mandatory minicamp in June. Dawson has signed the club’s franchise tender for the second year in a row … Running back Montario Hardesty switched from No. 31 to No. 20 … The Browns did not offer a contract to tryout quarterback Darron Thomas from Oregon … Veteran Oniel Cousins was the right tackle with the No. 1 offensive line on the first day, ahead of rookie Mitch Schwartz.

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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