The Cleveland Browns will take on the Indianapolis Colts today in their third game of the preseason. For news on how to watch the game, what time it starts, and who is favored to come out victorious, click here. With this being the Browns' first road game, will they be able to have the same opening spark they had against the Rams and Lions?
What to Look For - Browns vs. Colts
- Playing Time: According to head coach Rob Chudzinski, most of the starters will play the entire first half, and will also come out to play a series in the third quarter. After that, the reserves should start filtering into the game.
Injury Replacements: Besides some of the longer-term injuries, there are several players who have either been confirmed as "out" or will likely be out for this week's game: WR Davone Bess (knee), WR Naaman Roosevelt (hamstring), TE Gary Barnidge (shoulder), DE Desmond Bryant (back spasms), OLB Jabaal Sheard (knee), CB Chris Owens (foot), and K Brandon Bogotay (groin). The status of WR David Nelson and WR Jordan Norwood might come down to game-time decisions.
Cousins Trying to Seize the Opportunity: Offensive lineman Oniel Cousins has been waiting in the wings for an opportunity, and due to a string of injuries, he'll get the start at right guard against the Indianapolis Colts. Cousins pointed to how John Greco seized his opportunity last year when Jason Pinkston went down, and he hopes to do the same this year.
Fans of a negative image of Cousins due to his past work at offensive tackle, but we really don't know what he has to offer as a guard. If he ends up looking good and can offer some support until Pinkston or Shawn Lauvao gets back, that'll be great news. If he struggles against the Colts, though, the job may just be awarded to rookie Garrett Gilkey. Regardless, Gilkey is also supposed to get some first-team reps against the Colts.
Kick Return Auditions: With RB Dion Lewis going down, the Browns need to accelerate their audition process to see who will be the team's kick returner. It sounds like S Johnson Bademosi will get the first shot against the Colts, with WR Travis Benjamin and CB Buster Skrine to follow. Hopefully the kickers don't just boom the ball out of the end zone in the dome; we need to see these guys' vision and ball security in live action to determine if we need to go waiver wire hunting in a couple of weeks or not.
McFadden to Get Reps: Rookie CB Leon McFadden is expected to play in his first preseason game, now that he's healthy. With CB Chris Owens likely out with a foot injury, McFadden is also expected to play on the outside with the first-team defense in three-receiver sets. Considering the solid camps that Owens and Buster Skrine have had, it'll be hard for McFadden to pass either guy up at this point. Still, it'll be nice to evaluate what team's rookie third-round pick has to offer as a player -- can he contribute at some point this year, or is he getting beat left and right?
Interesting at Wide Receiver: With WR Davone Bess expected to miss this week's game, it will be interesting to see who the Browns put in the slot. I think the team prefers leaving WR Travis Benjamin on the outside. WR Joshua Cooper is healthy, and would seem to be next in line, but that is only if WR Jordan Norwood is out (he returned to practice at the end of the week). The big curveball will be if WR David Nelson returns. If he does, that will be a story in itself. Nelson has stated that he wants to play against the Colts, but the Browns also want to be smart about his rehab for long-term reasons.
Backup Running Back: With RB Dion Lewis likely done for the year, I'll be curious to see how the team handles the backup running back spot this week. It has already been acknowledged that RB Trent Richardson is one of the starters who will not see all of the reps with the first-teamers, in order to preserve his health. After him, do the Browns go with RB Chris Ogbonnaya or RB Brandon Jackson?
Also, if the Browns keep Ogbonnaya as the only fullback, there's a slight chance they could keep either Miguel Maysonet or Jamaine Cook until Montario Hardesty comes back. Maysonet hasn't stood out in camp so far, but can the newly-signed Cook make some noise if given a chance?
Safety Watch: We're not watching the safety position for competition purposes, but rather to just enjoy the fact that we will see both starting safeties in action for the first time this preseason (and most of camp, for that matter). T.J. Ward will start for the first time, and Tashaun Gipson was confirmed as the starting free safety earlier this week. Rookie S Jamoris Slaughter has been off the injury chart for awhile now, so I'm curious to see if he starts getting and reps, or if S Josh Aubrey continues to get more attention.
Sticky Situation at Kicker: The Browns have done a good job of not tipping their hat in favor of either Shayne Graham or Brandon Bogotay at the kicker position. Fans seem to be a little more behind Bogotay because of his stronger leg, but he has been ruled out of this week's game with a groin injury.
That puts the Browns in a sticky situation, as a groin injury can carry over into the season for a kicker. If Graham does a fine job against the Colts, is it time to declare him the starter? If he struggles, do you wait for Bogotay to get healthy again, or start hoping someone with more promise gets cut on another team?
On the Bubble: This is the week in which bubble players typically do not get much time to showcase their talents, but there could be a few exceptions this week. The Browns are two down at outside linebacker, meaning OLB Quentin Groves will start. The next guy up might be OLB Justin Cole, who has had a good camp and contributes on special teams. Cole is one guy to watch.
At tight end, Gary Barnidge is out. I'm not holding my breath, but it'd be nice to see TE Brad Smelley or TE Dan Gronkowski get some reps in two-tight-end sets with the first-team offense. Those reps will still probably go to TE Kellen Davis, sadly.
Other players to watch include everyone at backup inside linebacker after L.J. Fort, which includes James-Michael Johnson, Tank Carder, Justin Staples, and Tommy Smith. My latest roster projection had none of those four guys making it, but we'll see if someone delivers against the Colts.
Indy a Great Test Overall: The Browns made both the Rams and the Lions look like jobbers (wrestling term). That shouldn't be the case against Indianapolis, and if it is, it'll be a big testament to the Browns' growth and comfort level with their systems. Andrew Luck has had a solid preseason, building upon an already-solid rookie year.
The Colts have far better receivers than the Rams and the Lions, including veteran leadership (Reggie Wayne) and young speedsters (Darius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton). The Colts also managed six sacks against the Giants last week, although five of those came against the backups.
- Game Thread: Our game thread on Dawgs By Nature will go live at 5:30 PM EST, which is an hour and a half before kickoff. Be sure to check in for the third preseason game of the year!