As the Cleveland Browns head into their second preseason game, there might be a little less excitement than last week's opener against the Packers, due to all of the injuries the team has. Granted, the injuries aren't considered serious, but it is less fun watching a first-team unit that doesn't have all of its regulars in tact. Some brief notes to preview tonight's game (7:30 PM EST start time, WKYC Channel 3) are after the jump...
- There is a high probability that three defensive starters, safety Usama Young and linebackers Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong, will not play. Young and Gocong missed last week's game. Adding Fujita to the mix changes things, because before, you had a somewhat experienced guy (Kaluka Maiava) replacing Gocong. Maiava can't play two spots and Titus Brown backs up the middle, so that means undrafted free agent Brian Smith will probably get the call. He has been put in a prime position to secure a final roster spot.
- There is an off chance that T.J. Ward won't play at safety. If that happens, it is expected that Mike Adams would shift over to his spot, and rookie undrafted free agent James Dockery would take Adams' spot. Either way, I expect Dockery to get some work at safety against the Lions. If he proves he can be an all-around backup contributor, he'll make the final roster.
- On offense, it's a tough situation to project who will start at running back. Montario Hardesty returned to practice this week and it would be great to see him in action. Throughout the week, Pat Shurmur remained hesitant when it came to giving a definitive answer as to whether or not he'd play. Peyton Hillis suffered a minor hamstring injury on Wednesday, and whether that keeps him out or not remains to be seen. Brandon Jackson will still allow the first-team offense to flow, so the "safe" bet might be to just go with him. Jackson is used to facing the Lions from his days with Green Bay.
- The final substitution we could see is Jason Pinkston being thrown into the starting lineup at left guard after Eric Steinbach suffered a minor injury on Wednesday. Ultimately, I'd like to see Steinbach play with the first stringers, even if it is just the preseason. If I'm looking for a positive here, it is that Pinkston in the starting lineup would give us our first chance at really being able to evaluate his abilities. He has not made headlines in training camp. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it just means I don't know what to expect. Whoever plays at left guard will go up against former Brown Corey Williams.
- Speaking of former Browns, the Lions have a bunch of them on their roster. They include...
RB Mike Bell
RB Jerome Harrison
OG Isaac Sowells
DT Corey Williams
CB Anthony Madison
CB Brandon McDonald
CB Eric Wright
They are competing with Arizona for the "most former Browns players" award. Wright is expected to play despite an injury earlier in the week, and I imagine we'll see Harrison and some of the other guys in action too. That will certainly make this a unique-feeling rivalry. Wright and Harrison offered some comments about their time in Cleveland here. Wright seems gracious, while Harrison was a bit cold in his remarks.
- I don't expect Colt McCoy and the first-team offense to look as good as they did in the first preseason game, because let's face it -- they were pretty much perfect. If I see the same type of output over the duration of an entire half, I'll be ecstatic.
- The number one position I want to look at tonight is the defensive line. I want the duo of Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin to be more effective than they were a week ago. I'd also like to see Jayme Mitchell and Jabaal Sheard force Matthew Stafford to hurry up some of his throws. Last week, their pressure came when the second stringers entered the game.
- I want to see if Jordan Norwood's increase in training camp time at receivers shows up on gameday. Will he be playing the slot with the first-team offense, or will Greg Little be in that role again?
- I already talked about Ndamukong Suh yesterday, but I will re-iterate the point: the goal is to keep Suh away from Colt McCoy at all costs. It'll be a great test for Shawn Lauvao to see where the right side of our offensive line stands.
- With Hardesty and Hillis possibly out (or, possibly both playing!), I wonder if fullback Owen Marecic will be incorporated into the offense a little bit more. I thought he'd be involved as a receiver quite a bit, but that hasn't been the case in camp thus far. Don't get me wrong, though, I'd probably much rather take my chances throwing to the tight ends.
- I'm not sure if we're just trying to keep him healthy or what, but I want Joshua Cribbs to have at least two attempts at returning kickoffs or punts. I know he's experienced, but nothing matches getting reps against teams really coming down to hit you.
- No one stood out on special teams last week, and it might be tough for anyone to do so when you have 90-man rosters. If anyone makes an impression though, it'll help me decide if any more of the undrafted free agents deserve a roster spot.
- Last, but not least, let's hope everyone stays healthy again. Feel free to share what you'll be looking for in tonight's game.