About one year ago, the Cleveland Browns opened their first preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Tonight, at 7:30 PM EST, they will open their preseason against Green Bay again (in fact, this is the third straight year these teams have battled on game one). What has changed since the last time these two teams met? Plenty.
The Packers are now the defending Super Bowl Champions. The Browns replaced Eric Mangini with Pat Shurmur at head coach, and the team is now running a new offensive system and a new defensive system. The lockout shortened the amount of time a team implementing something new would have to prepare such drastic changes, so we'll see tonight just how competitive the ones are against the Packers. Some brief notes to preview tonight's game are after the jump...
- In the preseason, I think there is a double edged sword when it comes to deciding whether you tell Joshua Cribbs to take a knee if he gets the ball 4-5 yards deep in the end zone, or if you tell him to run out with it. On one hand, I think it's important to test your kickoff schemes in the preseason to be able to recognize who the best players are on that unit. On the other hand, you don't want to force a bad decision and set up your offense at the 10-yard line -- not an offense that is in the "testing" phases. If I had to make a final decision, I'd probably tell Cribbs to try to bring the ball out unless he's going backwards as he fields it.
Bernie Kosar is going the preseason games, YES! He won't have Jim Donovan with him, but Donovan will be back to call regular season radio games. Taking Donovan's place for the preseason is Andrew Catalon. I've never heard of him, but apparently he is a sports anchor for a television station in Albany, New York.
- I understand that teams don't want to expose their players too much since there are four preseason games, but I hope we don't see the crap that I saw the Chiefs' offense pull last night. They sent Matt Cassel out their for about two series, and yet they didn't have him throw a single pass. The Browns don't need to be overaggressive, but run your offense and see how things go.
- There aren't too many position battles to go through. Even with the ones I outlined the other day, everything seems set. Usama Young will probably play with the ones, and might even get some work with the twos if the team wants to evaluate him more. Tony Pashos probably isn't going to be replaced at right tackle, but I'm still really interested to see how Branndon Braxton does when he gets in.
- Let's run down the defensive players I think fans will be most interested in seeing in action:
-DT Phil Taylor - This one is a no brainer. You can't rule him a boom or bust in one day, but it'd be nice to see some early intensity and run stuffing.
-DE Jabaal Sheard - He's been going up against Joe Thomas and getting stonewalled; how will it go against lesser competition?
-DE Jayme Mitchell - It's tough to get to Aaron Rodgers, but I want to see if Mitchell's pass rushing ability from camp will translate to the field.
-LB D'Qwell Jackson - He has been getting good reviews from training camp, but until he has a running back barreling into him, will he hold up? I'm honestly scared to death that this guy will get another injury, but with each game that goes by that he ends up fine, my fears will lessen.
- Let's run down the offensive players I think fans will be most interested in seeing in action:
-WR Greg Little - This could be a unique situation for Little. With Mohammed Massaquoi out, Little should probably see some of the most playing time in the game, with both the first-team offense on certain downs, and then as the No. 1 receiver of the second unit.
-FB Owen Marecic - I don't know how much we'll actually utilize a fullback in this new system (versus just having two running backs), so that'll be interesting to see. I also want to see just how well Marecic's supposed skillset translates to the field.
-WR Jordan Norwood - Is he a true contender to be the team's slot receiver? A productive day on offense could help him solidify that role. I still have my doubts until I see him utilized in that capacity on gameday.
- Playing time distribution will be another thing to watch. I'd say that Evan Moore has played with almost every unit offensively. The team is deep at tight end though, so do you give him extended time, or just let rookie Jordan Cameron play three quarters? How long do you stick with Jabaal Sheard if you want to get his feet wet?
- I haven't been following the Packers too much due to my computer issues, so I anticipate that most of their starting lineup (maybe minus a cornerback) will be in there. I don't think you can ask for a tougher opponent in the first week. It's never good to get too optimistic or too pessimistic based on a preseason game outcome given all the circumstances.
- Punter Richmond McGee will be on watch all night. Any shank, dud that only goes 30 yard, or inability to pin a team back inside the 20 will hurt his chances at making the final roster.
- When Jarrett Brown gets in the game, I'm very interested to see what he brings to the table. He's made some great throws in practice, so my expectations are actually very high for him when he gets in during the fourth quarter. Not that he'll create a quarterback controversy, but I think he'll make some throws against a third-string defense that make him look like he had the best quarterback performance on the night.
- The Packers have receivers that can burn you easily, so this will be a good trial run for new guys like Dimitri Patterson, Buster Skrine, and Usama Young. I don't think Rodgers will go after Joe Haden when he's in the game -- he'll spot the "newbies" and try to take advantage.
- This will be the first time we get a look at Pat Shurmur on the sidelines, so I'm looking forward to the type of presence of vibe he brings to the sideline. Is he a guy who will sit their emotionless (Romeo Crennel)? Is he a guy who gets too fired up (Pete Carroll)? Is he a guy who is in the middle?
- The preseason games is where you can best project out who will make your practice squad. Fight for every inch, third-stringers.
- Random note, but I wonder if Steve Octavien will look like a beast when he's playing with the third unit.
- Last, and certainly not least, let's hope both teams come away healthy. I haven't heard of too many teams having injury issues in their first preseason games (due to the lockout), so hopefully it doesn't play a factor.
Feel free to talk about what else you're looking forward to in tonight's game. The official game thread should be posted at 6:00 PM EST, one and a half hours before game time.