Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
One in a series analyzing the Browns’ position groups prior to the first training camp practice on July 27.
Position: Defensive backs.
Cornerback roster: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Marcus Burley, Trey Caldwell, Joe Haden, Jason McCourty, J.D. Harmon, Darius Hillary, Alvin Hill, Najee Murray, Channing Stribling (r), Jamar Taylor, Howard Wilson (r).
Projected starters: Haden and Taylor.
Projected starters: Peppers and Kindred.
Overview: Three new players of note are Peppers, McCourty and Pryor. But the key to improving this position group may come down to Haden regaining the form that made him a Pro Bowl cornerback in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The breakout season in 2013 earned him a five-year extension for $68 million, including $45 million in guarantees. The guaranteed money expires this season, and Haden has been put on notice that he must produce to see the final two years of the lucrative deal. The addition of McCourty, who turns 30 in August, was seen more as a hedge against third corner Boddy-Calhoun, a 2016 undrafted rookie who had a rough 16th game in Pittsburgh, than a threat to Haden’s starting job. The safety positions are being rebuilt. Peppers’ role could be flexed as a hybrid linebacker – similar to the way coordinator Gregg Williams used Mark Barron with the Rams. Whereas Barron was more linebacker than safety, Peppers is more safety than linebacker. Williams’ sub packages could include two linebackers and three safeties, and that alignment might put Peppers, Pryor and a free safety on the field together. Free safety might see one of the few pure competition battles in training camp, pitting Kindred, a fourth-round pick in 2016, against Reynolds, a practice squadder who was pressed into a starting role last year after an injury to Jordan Poyer and did some good things in the last month of the season. When McCourty was signed, a transition to free safety was a consideration, but the possibility lessened at the conclusion of minicamp in June.
The major questions
1. Will Haden return to the form that made him a Pro Bowl cornerback in 2013, or is this his last season with the Browns?
2. Can Taylor match, or exceed, his surprise season of 2016, which earned him a three-year, $14.4 million contract?
3. What does McCourty, a 2009 Tennessee Titans sixth-round pick, have in the tank as he hits the age of 30? Can he hold down one of the outside cornerback spots when Taylor drops down to cover the slot receiver in multi-receiver defenses?
4. How much impact can Peppers make as an in-the-box safety, blitzing and tackling in the run game? Were questions about his coverage ability at Michigan overblown?
5. Is there a ball-hawking, center fielder-type free safety on the roster to pull in six or more interceptions?
Next: Running backs.