The Cleveland Browns will take on the Detroit Lions today in the Great Lakes Classic. For news on how to watch the game, what time it starts, and who is favored to come out victorious, click here. You can also check out our Q&A with our Lions affiliate.
Now, it's time for our weekly take on what Cleveland fans are looking to see from the Browns this week, including the debut of RB Trent Richardson, whether QB Brandon Weeden needs to solidify his spot as the team's top quarterback, and more.
What to Look For - Lions vs. Browns
- Playing Time: The Browns were pretty by-the-book last week in terms of playing time for a first preseason game, although QB Brian Hoyer did see more time than I expected him to. This week, the first-teamers are expected to play a quarter and a half, or possible the entire first half, depending on how many series they get in. The second-teamers will likely play the third quarter, followed by the third-teamers in the fourth quarter.
- Debut of Trent Richardson: The running back depth chart is going to take shape this week, now that starter Trent Richardson is back. Even though head coach Rob Chudzinski confirmed he would play, it would not surprise me if his reps are still limited compared to the rest of the starters. We'll see. When Richardson is in the game, I want to see how RB Dion Lewis is added to the mix. Does he come in on third downs, or as a spell back on first- or second-down for Richardson? Also, does RB Chris Ogbonnaya remain a fullback for Richardson?
Near the end of the first quarter last week, we saw RB Brandon Jackson make a cutback move in the red zone, but a defender was able to hang on to him and force him to trip down at around the five-yard line. That's the type of play I'd expect Richardson to make a difference on -- he'd get into the end zone. I want to see if he gets any of those opportunities this week to prove that he's 100% healthy. Whatever order of running backs we see today should carry over to opening day, since RB Montario Hardesty is having knee surgery Thursday.
- Dion Lewis at Kick Returner: There is still a competition taking place at kick returner, but it looks like RB Dion Lewis may be close to locking that role up. Last week on the depth chart, the "No. 1 kick returner" was listed as "CB Johnson Bademosi/RB Dion Lewis." This week, Lewis was the only person listed at No. 1, with Bademosi listed as the No. 2 guy.
The only other change on the depth chart was the Justin Staples was moved from ILB to OLB, and Justin Cole was moved from OLB to ILB. Both players had very good games last week with the second- and third-teamers.
- Bogotay In, Graham Out: No, a final decision has not been in the kicker competition, but this will arguably be the most important day in Brandon Bogotay's NFL career. Chudzinski told the media that veteran Shayne Graham will have this week off, meaning Bogotay will kick for the entire game, including field goals, extra points, and kickoffs. Bogotay missed a 54-yarder last week but is known for having a bigger leg than Graham.
- Lanning With an Opportunity Too? We could also see P Spencer Lanning, who fell on the short end of the punting competition last week, play the entire game this week. P T.J. Conley did not practice on Wednesday with a "slight groin strain" and is expected to be a game-time decision.
- Weeden's The Guy: There is no doubt that QB Brandon Weeden will be the Browns' starting quarterback on opening day, even if the front office and coaching staff haven't made it official yet. Everyone knows the deal, including LT Joe Thomas:
"Brandon's taking all the first-team reps, so take it for what that is. I don't know. I'm not evaluating the quarterbacks. I think Jason’s had a great camp, so I wouldn’t necessarily say that they're not both playing well 'cause they both are. So I don't know how you evaluate which quarterback is going to be the starter or not. But I mean I've got eyes just like everybody else does, and Brandon’s taken all the first reps."Weeden led two scoring drives against the Rams last week, completing 10-of-13 passes for 112 yards and 1 touchdown. My expectations for him this week are to simply stay accurate and appear to have a good grasp of the offense. We know about his arm strength, and as rufio pointed out, his footwork looked improved against the Rams. He could quicken up on a few of his decisions, though.
- Less Vanilla Schemes for OL to Face: Continuing with LT Joe Thomas from the ABJ article, he described how the Rams were very vanilla with what they did defensively, but that he expects some different wrinkles against the Lions:
"We’re going to be playing a few more snaps than we did last time. We’re going to see a little more complex defense. [The Rams] were about as vanilla as you possibly could [be] last week, so it wasn’t a challenge at all figuring what we needed to do because they just stood there for us. Obviously we’re going to get a different look at the defense, and it’s going to be interesting to see how we’re able to adjust when they bring a pressure or they play a different coverage or they do something that you’re going to see in a regular NFL game.
"[The Lions] will be vanilla, but they’ll be less vanilla than [the Rams] were last week. So instead of zero pressures and zero coverage changes, we may get one out of every four plays. So neither team really game plans much, but they’re going to show a little bit more of their defense. We’re going to probably show a little bit more of our offense. It’s just kind of baby steps at this point in the preseason."
- Cornerback Competition to Heat Back Up: Last week, CB Buster Skrine seized the opportunity while CB Chris Owens had a foot injury. Skrine looked good in limited snaps against the Rams, and had a fantastic stretch of practice in terms of aggressive coverage. Owens is back, though, and is expected to play against the Lions. He has also been having a great camp and didn't miss a lot of time, so this competition is far from over. They Browns' secondary will face a much tougher test against the Lions this week than they did against the drop-happy Rams a week ago.
CB Leon McFadden returned to practice this week, but he is not expected to see action against the Lions. CB Trevin Wade could get a few reps as the fourth cornerback after being the nickel back last week. At safety, T.J. Ward practiced this week and is healthy enough to play, but word is that he will probably sit this one out too. We could see the debut of rookie safety Jamoris Slaughter, though.
- Improvement at Tight End: I think we got a good grasp of our wide receivers' strengths last week. It's a different story at tight end, though. Jordan Cameron did have a 30-yard catch-and-run against the Rams, but the blocking of the tight ends in general was pretty lackluster. It'll be interesting to see if that shakes up the depth chart at all -- will Dan Gronkowski or the returning Brad Smelley have an opportunity to get in to the mix more? The tight ends have reportedly been stepping up their pass-catching skills in camp over the past week, so we'll see if Brandon Weeden tries targeting them.
- Addition of Reggie Bush: Much has been made about the Lions' Matthew Stafford only going 3-of-8 in passing last week for 58 yards, so Detroit fans are really hoping that he gets a scoring drive right out of the gate against the Browns. The new "toy" for the Lions this year is RB Reggie Bush.
Although Bush can electrify, he only had 5 yards on 3 carries last week, and didn't catch a pass on 2 targets. Nonetheless, that Lions will try to get Bush out in space, and it'll be a good test for our linebackers to contain him. The idea is for Bush to draw attention and then get some more one-on-one matchups with WR Calvin Johnson. Johnson will be matched up with CB Joe Haden this week, which will be a spectacle in itself.
- Ansah vs. Thomas: To be clear, LT Joe Thomas doesn't have to prove anything -- he's already well-established as the best offensive tackle in the league. It will be interesting to see how he handles facing OLB Ezekiel Ansah for the first time, though. Ansah was a prospect many Browns fans were interested in prior to the draft. He had a pick six against Mark Sanchez last week and showed some nice moves.
Of course, Browns fans should also look out for DT Ndamukong Suh, who is always a load to contain. He'll likely be going up against RG John Greco or C Alex Mack, with DT Nick Fairley being matched up against LG Jason Pinkston.
- On the Bubble: Last week, there were a couple of players who really shined in the spotlight against second- and third-teamers. I want to see if those guys were one-hit wonders, or if they rise to the occasion again. Those players include DE Brian Sanford, LB Justin Cole, and LB Justin Staples. I thought LB Tommy Smith also had a couple of good hits, so he's another guy to watch. Upon further review, DE Armonty Bryant did show a pretty good motor, so he'll certainly be worth another look as well.
- The Naaman Roosevelt Experiment: There is a chance that WR Jordan Norwood will have to sit this week out with an injury. Given the question marks surrounding veteran WR David Nelson, this could be the perfect week to experiment with WR Naaman Roosevelt in an increased role on offense. I'd even give him some reps with QB Brandon Weeden. Roosevelt has reportedly been making great/athletic catches in camp, and he could be ripe for a breakout performance this week.
- Bernie Kosar's Commentary: As if I wasn't listening to Bernie Kosar's commentary enough already, I'll really be keyed in on what he says this week, but for different reasons. I won't mind if he doesn't make jokes any more, but I hope he's not restricted from bring critical, such as saying things like, "you can't do that and expect to make it in the NFL," "that was not a good decision," or "I'm not impressed by this guy." Hell, I'd love it if he sounded exactly the same as he did last week. I just hope he doesn't sound like a completely different commentator, losing the appeal that made him so fun to listen to.
- Game Thread: Our game thread on Dawgs By Nature will go live at 6:00 PM EST, which is an hour and a half before kickoff. Be sure to check in for the second preseason game of the year!
Can rookie K Brandon Bogotay win the starting job against the Lions?
Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
LB Justin Staples was impressive against the Rams. Can he do it again?
Credit: Ron Schwane-USA TODAY Sports