Greg Little will enter the regular season as the Browns' featured receiver. That much is known.
Everything else is unknown And that's a good thing. Several other candidates have performed well enough to join the fray for playing time or at least roster spots.
The most intriguing is athletic rookie Josh Gordon, who boasts the most upside. The supplemental pick flashed early in camp, then lost his way under a barrage of criticism for stopping short on routes before recovering in recent practices. Gordon made the catch of the day on Monday, outfighting CB James Dockery for a 45-yard pass from QB Brandon Weeden.
"The last couple days of practice he's played faster," said coach Pat Shurmur. "He's catching and running with it instead of catching and stopping. If he does that in practice, we all know it can translate into games."
Shurmur offered that Gordon had not been accustomed to practicing more aggressively and in game speed. He added that Gordon must work on comeback routes, but that the coaches must also accommodate him.
"It's a matter of us getting used to running routes that he does well and getting them into games," Shurmur said.
Gordon will most assuredly receive some playing time from the beginning of the regular season, but the Browns appear set on starting Mohamed Massaquoi opposite Little. Shurmur lauded Massaquoi as the most improved receiver over last year and team president Mike Holmgren said before training camp that he expects him to make a huge jump. Justification for such praise seems lacking, however.
Speedster Travis Benjamin, however, has earned rave reviews. He caught two passes for 46 yards in the preseason opener at Detroit and has shown far better route-running skills than many anticipated. The slight rookie has also handled the physical nature of the position quite well.
"He's fast and he's shown the ability to run good routes," Shurmur said. "He's catching the ball in traffic. I don't know who was concerned about that, but whoever it was you can let him know that he's making good progress."
Benjamin provides speed in a receiver corps that has lacked it since the Browns returned to Cleveland. The team was hoping to provide new QB Brandon Weeden with a downfield threat that was worthy of his strong arm. The Browns have not been able to stretch the field vertically since one-year wonder Derek Anderson enjoyed his big season in 2007. The combination of Weeden and Benjamin is certainly promising.
"I bring speed and playmaking ability," Benjamin said. "I can catch short passes and make them long or I can [stretch out] defenses over the top."
Little, Massaquoi, Gordon, Benjamin and Josh Cribbs are certain to make the team. Jordan Norwood and rookie Josh Cooper are likely battling for the last spot, though underachieving Carlton Mitchell returned to practice on Monday after missing all of camp with an undisclosed injury.
Cooper has the advantage of having played with Weeden at Oklahoma State. But all Norwood has done is produce. He has caught three passes for 28 yards in two preseason games. The Browns are unlikely to keep Cooper simply because he worked well with Weeden in college, but Shurmur offered other reasons to consider having him stick around.
"He's another player who has flashed at times," Shurmur said. "He's been impressive. He works really hard. He plays in the slot, where you have to wriggle free and he's doing that a lot better now. I think early on the physical nature of the corners kind of shocked him."
The decisions on which receivers to keep and which to play must be made soon. And Shurmur certainly isn't complaining that they haven't made it easy for him.