The former Ohio State and Oakland quarterback made the Browns’ roster as a wide receiver, and he’s expected to be used in other ways by a Cleveland team lacking game-changing playmakers.
The 26-year-old Pryor was slowed by a hamstring injury during training camp and only made his exhibition debut Thursday night in Chicago. Pryor did not have a reception — he wasn’t targeted — but he displayed his versatility by taking two snaps at quarterback and blocking on the punt team. The Browns are intrigued by the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder’s potential and kept him on their initial 53-man roster.
There were few surprises as the Browns, who went 7-9 last season under first-year coach Mike Pettine, trimmed their roster on Saturday. Pryor was one of seven wide receivers to make the squad, and his selection came at the expense of rookie Vince Mayle, a fourth-round pick from Washington State who may end up on Cleveland’s practice squad. Wide receiver Josh Lenz, an undrafted free agent who played well in the preseason, was also let go.
The Browns also released veteran backup quarterback Thad Lewis, leaving them with just starter Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel, who has resumed throwing after being limited by a sore elbow the past few weeks. Pryor, who made 10 starts for the Raiders, could also serve as Cleveland’s third quarterback.
Lewis’ release seems to indicate Manziel will be available to back up McCown for next week’s season opener against the Jets.
Pettine said finalizing the roster wasn’t easy.
“Some of the discussions at the 75 cut were difficult. We knew it was going to be some tough choices that had to be made at the 53. We were right,” he said. “There were lengthy discussions. It was not cut and dry. A lot of variables went into it. Still, even now past the deadline, the situation is still very fluid.”
Pryor had only played some wide receiver in high school before he decided to give it a go at the game’s highest level. He remains a work in progress, but Pryor’s size and speed make a unique athlete and the Browns can envision using him in multiple formations and packages.
It helped Pryor that he has some background with new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo as the two worked together with the Raiders. As Oakland’s starter for nine games in 2013, Pryor rushed for 576 yards and two touchdowns, including a 93-yarder on the first play from scrimmage against Pittsburgh — the longest run in NFL history by a quarterback.
The Browns kept only six offensive linemen and will likely add another one or two for depth. Last season, the team never recovered after losing Pro Bowl center Alex Mack with a broken leg in Week 6.
Cleveland is also starting the season with four tight ends, including E.J. Bibbs, the only undrafted rookie to make the squad.
Among the notables to survive the cut was defensive lineman Billy Winn, a four-year veteran whose future appeared in doubt because of the emergence of Jamie Meder and rookies Danny Shelton and Xavier Cooper. Also, the club signed free agent Randy Starks in the offseason, bolstering the team’s depth up front.
“That was big with Meder stepping up. That’s like found money,” Pettine said. “He’s a guy that was undrafted a year ago that we were able to add mid-season and then for him to step up and have the offseason he had and make a big jump, that was impressive. You add that to our rookie class with Danny and Xavier and then add veterans like Starks. Desmond (Bryant) had one of his better offseasons — he seems primed to have a big year — and the versatility of an Armonty Bryant that can swing back and forth between outside linebacker and defensive line gives you more depth there.”
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