The NFL preseason officially begins tonight for the Cleveland Browns as they will be at Ford Field to take on the Detroit Lions in the annual meeting of the Great Lakes Classic. Even though the Browns were hit with some bad news this week involving Trent Richardson (knee) and Joe Haden (possible suspension), there are still plenty of things to get excited about. Some brief notes to preview tonight's game are after the jump.
- Jim Donovan & Bernie Kosar will call tonight's game locally on WOIO, Channel 19. Kickoff is at 7:30 PM EST, with a pregame show set to air at 7:00 PM EST. Doug Dieken, Mike Snyder, and Jamir Howerton will do the radio broadcast, which can be listened to on ClevelandBrowns.com or on FM/100.7.
- No matter how much of an arm Brandon Weeden shows in camp, this will be his first time facing a live NFL defense. I trust that he has the arm strength, so I'm interested in seeing how his decision-making pans out and how he deals with a heavy pass rush. Does he just chuck the ball erratically into double coverage, or does he check down to his receivers appropriately? Since Weeden is a rookie, I would expect him to play the entire first quarter, or at least two full series.
- One preseason game can't dictate how this season will go. After last year's preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers, I said, "McCoy was marvelous in his first live action in the West Coast Offense, a system that seems tailor-made for him." That is when he completed 9-of-10 passes for 135 yards and 1 touchdown, but we all know how horrid things were in the regular season. I'm not saying we can't get excited, but this game should not fluctuate whatever your win/loss projection is.
- There are some things you can evaluate, such as the performance of rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Some of you may have heard how terrible rookie right tackle Mike Adams looked for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday. Although Schwartz had reportedly had some difficulty with Jabaal Sheard in camp, it would be great to see some stability from the right side of the line while Weeden is in there. Lions starting defensive end Cliff Avril will not play, so that is already a bit of a break for Schwartz in his first live-game action.
- Obviously, we want our receivers to look good running routes and catching the football. What I am really interested in is at what point in the game certain receivers get reps. Does Joshua Cribbs play with the first-team offense at all? Where do Jordan Norwood, Carlton Mitchell, and Josh Cooper fit in? Does Rod Windsor remain one of Colt McCoy's top targets on the second-team offense? I'm telling you guys -- Windsor could be the dark horse to be the team's sixth receiver.
- The Browns will surely want to get some reps in for Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson with Richardson out. We have heard about Hardesty's quickness throughout camp, but let's see if his tentativeness is gone when the hitting gets real (although, based on the practice reports, it sounds like he's already been through that test with his own teammates!). Unfortunately, we won't get to see who the intended third-down back will be without Richardson starting.
- On defense, I think it's important that James-Michael Johnson plays with the first-team defense over Scott Fujita, at least during one series. We're going to need JMJ for those first three regular season games, and I would rather he get experience against the first-teamers in the preseason than against the second-teamers. At linebacker, Craig Robertson and L.J. Fort have stood out in camp. Can either of these youngsters prove to be a viable backup on gameday? What about Emmanuel Acho, who has mostly seen action on special teams?
- Matthew Stafford is a great quarterback, and you know he'll be looking to go down the field against our safeties. T.J. Ward has struggled against the pass, and Eric Hagg remains a question mark until he proves himself. The depth behind them is questionable at best. With the possibility of Joe Haden missing four regular season games, the safeties need to restore some confidence at the position.
- No one has said what Benjamin Watson's injury is, but since he has missed the last few practices, it's probably safe to assume that he won't play. Jordan Cameron is expected to get the start, but I'm still interested in seeing if Evan Moore gets any snaps with the first-team offense, and if Brad Smelley gets into the mix at all.
- One of the most intriguing players I want to see on the defensive line is Billy Winn. I have been to two training camp sessions, and both times he has looked like a monster at defensive tackle. I hope he gets some first-team reps, but even though John Hughes was listed there on the depth chart, I expect Scott Paxson to continue seeing most of the first-team snaps there. At defensive end, Frostee Rucker and Marcus Benard will probably miss the game, so we can't really evaluate the addition of Rucker very well.
- It is always great to see who is going to win a job based on their special teams plays. I will be keeping track of the little things, such as who the gunners are during the game, the upback on kickoff returns, which players are making the tackles, who looks the smoothest on returns, and how Reggie Hodges is booting the ball compared to backup Spencer Lanning.
- How much of a difference will Brad Childress make when it comes to playcalling? The preseason is not always the best gauge since you're trying to evaluate players rather than running a normal gameplan. It'll be interesting to see if Pat Shurmur is more relaxed, although he should still be the actual playcaller. Also, I'm wondering if new owner Jimmy Haslam or team president Mike Holmgren will appear anywhere.
- Other players to look for: OL Ryan Miller, OT Oniel Cousins, DE Auston English, CB Trevin Wade, CB James Dockery, and CB Antwuan Reed. I'm not so interested in how Colt McCoy or Seneca Wallace perform because Weeden has the starting role locked up.
Feel free to discuss what you are looking for in tonight's game against the Lions. The official game thread will go live at 6:00 PM EST, which is an hour and a half before the game begins.