The Cleveland Browns will face the Green Bay Packers today to kick off the exhibition season. I'm already in the football mood after having watched a few NFL teams play over the past two days, but it's hard to stay awake after halftime when the third- and fourth-stringers are in the game.
My attitude should change when watching the Browns play tonight, because even if it's Brett Ratliff handing off to Chris Jennings with Joel Reinders being the lead blocker, this is where the fans can truly evaluate how these guys look during live-game action.
Here's what I'm looking for in tonight's contest...
- It's often difficult to compare between years, but maybe we could do that this year. We also faced Green Bay in the first preseason game last year. Our offense was shut down completely in that game, and the Packers' first-string offense tore us apart as the Browns lost 17-0. During the regular season, the Browns were blown out by the Packers by about 30 points if I recall correctly.
This game isn't about redemption or anything, but it could serve as a benchmark of sorts in terms of how much this team has progressed since last year's team.
- All eyes will be on quarterback Jake Delhomme as he makes his preseason debut in a Browns uniform. Delhomme is scheduled to play the first quarter, although if the Packers control the clock with one long drive, there's always that chance that his playing time leaks into the second quarter. After all, this isn't a situation where Tom Brady is returning to his successful team and might not need the work; I think it's important for Delhomme to build confidence while he plays, something he lacked with the Panthers last year.
- Backup Seneca Wallace is scheduled to get the second quarter, but I'm interested in seeing if we work him into a few Cyclone plays during the first quarter. I think he'll run the Cyclone while he's in during the second quarter, but if they spell Delhomme during his time, it'll be more confirmation that the formation will be a prominent part of our gameplan this year. I'm half expecting the first play of the game offensively to be Joshua Cribbs lined up in the Wildcat, since he seems to have been doing that in training camp in 11-on-11 drills a few times.
- We won't get a look at Montario Hardesty, and Jerome Harrison doesn't need to convince me that he's a good running back. Therefore, with the first unit, I want to see how we incorporate training camp star Peyton Hillis into the offense. He's been great as a receiver out of the backfield and Delhomme has been throwing to his running backs and tight ends throughout most of training camp.
- Will any of our receivers pose a threat? It sounds like we have defined roles for Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, and Chansi Stuckey (slot). Fans have stated that all three receivers look better this year, but better doesn't necessarily mean they are good enough to beat the cornerbacks of opposing teams, especially when you have a good secondary like the Packers do.
- As far as the Packers go, Aaron Rodgers is expected to take about 20 snaps, which probably puts him around a quarter and some change. Players who are either out or presumed to be out on the Packers include starting linebackers Nick Barnett and Clay Matthews.
- The right side of the offensive line really can't be evaluated tonight, as we probably won't get a look at Tony Pashos who is expected to be out with a shoulder injury. John St. Clair has an opportunity to showcase that he still has it, but my expectations are tamed. I'd be interested in seeing a formation that had Floyd Womack at right tackle and Shawn Lauvao at right guard.
- The most important defensive position for me will be the secondary. I think Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald will be healthy to go, which means we'll be much deeper at cornerback than we were last year against the Packers. You need to be deep against Green Bay with all of the threats they have and Rodgers' ability to get his receivers the football. At safety, T.J. Ward is probably the player fans will be most interested in. Known as a hard hitter and for his support against the run, will his recent camp success to making plays on the football in the air translate to gametime?
- I really don't expect many exotic blitzes in the preseason, but on the same note you can't use that as an excuse for not being able to generate pressure. This will be the time to see if guys like Matt Roth and Marcus Benard can use their speed and physical talent to generate pressure themselves. We have a lot of versatile linebackers, but one or two of them will have to be cut. It's important that all of them step up their games, unless your last name is Roth, Gocong, or Fujita.
- Without Shaun Rogers ready to play, I'm expecting a mixed bag at the defensive line position. The most interesting thing will be to re-evaluate how nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin does at his position.
- The preseason is a good time to make a splash on special teams, particularly at the gunner position if the Browns are indeed looking to give Cribbs a break from that position.
- I'm really not that excited to see Colt McCoy in action, with the reason being that I'm convinced that the team will stay true to their word to have Delhomme as the starting quarterback. Don't get me wrong, I'm interested in seeing how the rookie does, but I'm not going to have butterflies in my stomach (that is, unless he suddenly went 10-of-10 for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns or something).
- After Massaquoi, Robiskie, Stuckey, and Cribbs, there seems to be one receiver spot left. Which player between Bobby Engram, Syndric Steptoe, Johnathan Haggerty, and Carlton Mitchell will have the biggest impact today? Engram might have the most catches of the group since he's a security blanket, but he catches the short passes. One of the other three is bound to be on the receiving end of a deep ball down the field.
Feel free to share what you will be looking for in tonight's game. FYI, the official game thread has been scheduled for posting at 5:00 p.m. EST. The actual game is scheduled to begin at 8:00 p.m. EST.