The Cleveland Browns' first-team offense has looked good through the first two games, but they'll face their best challenge yet when they take on the Philadelphia Eagles a little later tonight. I think it is a safe assumption that for Browns fans, there is one major think we'll be looking for in this game: how running back Montario Hardesty looks in his first game back in nearly a year.
- We've seen Hardesty in camp for about two weeks now, and so far things have been fine. I wouldn't say the team has used him in an expanded role; when Brandon Jackson was healthy, it seemed like he was getting a lot more reps than Hardesty has been getting, even with Jackson out now. Peyton Hillis is expected to play in the game, so we might not actually see a lot from Hardesty. I hope it's enough for him to remove any hesitation he might have. Most of all, I hope he stays healthy so we don't have a repeat situation from last year.
- It is definitely a bummer to hear that so many guys are going to miss this week's preseason game still. I'm referring to the likes of Mohamed Massaquoi, Joshua Cribbs, Usama Young, and T.J. Ward. It sounds like Eric Steinbach and Chris Gocong will miss the game too, but their absence in the preseason probably isn't as important, and it is helping develop two younger players.
- The Browns used Jarrett Brown in the scout team offense this week to prepare the defense for facing Michael Vick. Our defensive linemen are quicker than they'd be in a 4-3 system, so this will be a good opportunity for them to make a quarterback pay for trying to leave the pocket. I'm so used to seeing quarterbacks avoid pressure from our defenders in previous years though, so I'm anticipating that Vick won't have many issues.
- I really don't think any bubble players are going to have the opportunity to leave an impression against the Eagles. Everyone who plays on the first-team offense and defense are probably going to make the team, except one of the safeties could be removed. With our defensive tackles looking to play thee quarters, I'm interested to see who gets rotated in -- that person will be assured a roster spot. Special teams players will have something to play for...as long as the kickers don't keep booting it out of the back of the end zone.
- If there are bubble players to watch out for, I guess they'd be receiver Jordan Norwood and cornerback Buster Skrine. I feel like both players will make the team, but since they've never made an opening-day 53-man roster, you can't rule anything out.
- More sustained discipline would be admirable from the starting units. There were too many penalties for the Browns last week, but some of those came with the backups in the game. The third-down conversions need to be a little better this week too, although the first-string offense did fine in those situations a week ago.
- It sounds like the Browns have intentions to use fullback Owen Marecic as more than just a blocker in the West Coast Offense. He's had trouble hauling in a few passes, but I'd like to see a few plays designed for him to get him into a groove. We need more fans to get behind this guy if he's going to be our starter.
Colt McCoy has been so good in the first two preseason games, but now he's facing a more advanced secondary. We'll see if the creative playcalling continues to allow McCoy to spread the ball around and put points on the board.
- The skies are clearing before the game in Philadelphia after it rained earlier, according to Tony Grossi of the Plain Dealer. There are threats of thunderstorms from game time until midnight though in Philly, so we might see Cleveland in action when the ball is slick. That would be a great test for Hillis' fumbling issues.
- There really isn't much else I'm looking for this week, other than for everyone to play pretty well. We're at a point where I feel like I know what our starters can do in the first half, so now it's time to see how they respond in terms of energy after halftime. It's probably important to try to establish the running game with Hillis on at least one drive, since that has been ignored at times over the first two games.
- The Browns vs. Eagles game thread will go live at 6:00 PM EST, right here on Dawgs By Nature. Thankfully my power came back on a couple hours before the start time of the game!