June 24, 2016


Browns vs. Bears: Final talent show, bubble players get last chance

CLEVELAND — The moment of truth has arrived for the two-dozen Browns players on the bubble to make the team.

Cleveland’s preseason finale tonight against the Chicago Bears will mark the final time some of those athletes will ever put on a football uniform.

It’s a cruel reality about life in the NFL — and one Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer knows very well.

“There are a few nights where you toss and turn a little bit before the last preseason game because it’s definitely on your mind,” said Hoyer, who has been released three times in six seasons. “It’s definitely understandable, but this is the business that we chose.

“Each of us put ourselves in this situation, so you just hope for the best, perform the best you can and kind of let the chips fall where they may.”

While Hoyer will begin the regular season as Cleveland’s starting quarterback, there are a handful of spirited position battles on the line at FirstEnergy Stadium.

The Browns currently have 74 players on their roster, but must cut down to 53 by Saturday afternoon.

General manager Ray Farmer also is likely to interchange a number of players at the bottom of the squad by claiming other teams’ releases Sunday.

“That’s an important part of the process and a big part of the year for personnel departments across the league,” coach Mike Pettine said. “In general, you just match up positions where you feel like you can upgrade, then go ahead and make that move.”

Among the more interesting competitions this evening are:

• Wide receiver (5 or 6): Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins and Travis Benjamin are locks, while Nate Burleson is too valuable to release after Josh Gordon was suspended for the season by the NFL. Charles Johnson is attempting to hang onto his job under heavy pushes from undrafted rookies Taylor Gabriel and Willie Snead, with Marlon Moore a longshot.

• Fullback (1): Converted tight end MarQueis Gray and bruising blocker Ray Agnew have made this a tough call because of their different skill sets. “Agnew has been impressive as more of an old-school fullback, where I think MarQueis brings versatility to the table,” Pettine said. “That’s a decision we’re going to have to make.”

• Quarterback (2 or 3): Hoyer and Johnny Manziel could wind up being the lone signal callers on the squad. Rex Grossman and rookie Connor Shaw are vying for no more than one job, but might not survive even if they play well against Chicago. This position will be affected by the rest of the roster’s composition.

• Running back (3 or 4): Ben Tate will start with rookie Terrance West as his backup. Pettine has declared Dion Lewis the frontrunner for the next spot, but Chris Ogbonnaya’s versatility and size would be valuable in the event of an injury. Rookie Isaiah Crowell is ticketed for the practice squad or waivers.

• Safety (4 or 5): Donte Whitner and Tashaun Gipson are among the better players on the team, while Jim Leonhard is a valued veteran. Jordan Poyer has also been effective, which puts Josh Aubrey and Johnson Bademosi on the hot seat. Both made their marks on special teams, but that might not be enough.

“There are more than a few spots, I would say, that are unsettled,” Pettine said. “That’s why we’re looking forward to getting those guys some more game experience and some quality reps before we have to make a final decision.”

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.