This will be a big change for the Browns this season as the one area that has been the most consistent since the Browns returned in 1999 has been the specialists. Phil Dawson had been the kicker since 1999 and the Browns punting situation has consistently been one of the team’s stronger areas with the likes of Chris Gardocki, Dave Zastudil and Reggie Hodges manning the duties.
However, both Dawson and Hodges were not re-signed after becoming free agents.
Yount is the only holdover from last year’s specialists. He is in his third year with the Browns as the long snapper after replacing Ryan Pontbriand when he melted down in the 2011 season.
If you include the return specialists, the Browns are trying to replace Josh Cribbs, as well. Most likely, wide receiver Travis Benjamin will be the punt returner and possibly the kick returner.
Last year, Dawson and Cribbs went to the Pro Bowl and the Browns will need to fill that void.
Specialists: Brandon Bogotay, Shayne Graham, Spencer Lanning and T.J. Conley and Christian Yount.
Bogotay (6-3, 207, 24, Rookie) — Bogotay was used at Georgia as a kickoff specialist and was just 1-of-3 in field goal attempts as he backed up Blair Walsh. Bogotay has a strong leg, but will have to impress quickly to fend off Graham.
Graham (6-0, 210, 35, 12th year) — In his 12th season, Graham is the oldest player on the Browns roster. He was 31-of-38 in field goals for the Texans last season. He was just 4-of-9 from 50 yards and beyond. In his career, Graham is 245-of-287 (85.4 pct.)
Lanning (5-11, 200, 25, 1st year) — Lanning was in training camp with the Browns last season, but failed to beat out Hodges. Special teams coach Chris Tabor had Lanning in training camp in 2011 with the Bears and is familiar with him. Lanning spent last season punting in the UFL.
Conley (6-1, 215, 27, 2nd year) — Conley was the Jets punter in 2011 where he ranked 30th in gross average with 42.7. He was signed by the Vikings for 2012, but did not make the team.
Yount (6-1, 256, 25, 3rd year) — Yount has been nearly flawless since taking over the long snapping duties during the 2011 season from Ryan Pontbriand. Yount picked up four special team tackles.
Summary: Whoever ends up as the field goal kicker will have big shoes to fill replacing Dawson. Although, the general feeling was the Browns didn’t pursue re-signing Dawson because of his age. However, with the signing of the 35-year old Graham, it appears the decision to leave might have been Dawson’s more than the Browns. With Bogotay having no NFL and little college experience, Graham would seem to be the likely kicker to open the season for the Browns.
Lanning is in his third-straight training camp with special teams coordinator Chris Tabor, thus making it look as though he is the punter the Browns think will win the job. Conley lost out in competition to a rookie in Minnesota last year and was out of the NFL.