The Cleveland Browns will take on the Washington Redskins on Monday for their second game of the preseason. Here is a reader's digest of what you can expect to see from Cleveland as the whole country watches on:
What to Look For - Browns vs. Redskins
- Playing Time: According to head coach Mike Pettine, the starters will play the first half against Washington. What we don't know, though, is exactly how the quarterback distribution will unfold. It has already been announced that QB Brian Hoyer will start, but Pettine's original desire was to give both Hoyer and QB Johnny Manziel equal reps with the first-team offense. Ideally, both quarterbacks would be facing the Redskins' first-string defense, too.
Earlier this week, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said that he expects his starters to only play a quarter, or a little more than a quarter. That means that there would be a chance that Manziel would only get to work against a second-team defense, which is not what Pettine wants. Pettine told reporters that he'd talk things over with Gruden to get a better idea of how he planned on using his substitutes.
With all of that in mind, here is what I think we're going to see:
-Hoyer plays the 1st series
-Manziel plays the 2nd and 3rd series
-Hoyer plays the 4th and 5th series
-Manziel plays the 6th series
The scenario above would see Manziel likely starting the second half again with the second-team offense.
- Our First Taste of Manziel Mania: We've seen the type of attention that QB Johnny Manziel has brought to the Browns already, but it's going to be taken to another level on Monday. The country will be watching for Manziel, but they'll also see the product that is the 2014 Cleveland Browns, and that's big. Cleveland already set the record for the most-watched game on NFL Network, and ESPN knows that the Browns-Redskins game will draw big numbers.
- The Other Quarterbacks: Will the newly-signed Rex Grossman see action against his former team? If he does, it likely will not be ahead of Connor Shaw, based on what Mike Pettine said on Saturday. I think the Browns are much more comfortable with Grossman being their No. 3 quarterback, but they want to make sure he's physically ready to jump into action. Until then, this is also a good opportunity to evaluate how Shaw responds in live-game action. Shaw might not get any other opportunities besides the final preseason game.
- Changes in the Secondary: We're going to see a lot of changes in the secondary this week. First, starting free safety Tashaun Gipson is back after missing last week's game with a knee injury. Rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert is expected to make his debut and start across from Joe Haden. Gilbert has not beaten out cornerback Buster Skrine at this point, but Skrine injured his thumb this past Friday and will not play.
Earlier this week, defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil said that cornerback Isaiah Trufant is the team's current nickelback, but he is also out with a knee injury this week. On top of that, CB Pierre Desir (knee), CB T.J. Heath (hip), and CB K'Waun Williams (hamstring) did not make the trip due to injury. Because of that, Pettine said that the Browns will utilize a third safety -- probably Jordan Poyer or Jim Leonhard -- when the team needs a nickelback against Washington.
Since five cornerbacks are out, expect Leon McFadden and Aaron Berry to get a lot of action with the second-team defense.
- Gordon Makes the Trip: Although it's not confirmed that wide receiver Josh Gordon will play on Monday (abdominal injury), he made the trip and is expected to be a game-time decision. Having Gordon in the lineup would no doubt add a security blanket for both of the competing quarterbacks. On the same note, Cleveland still faces a dire situation if Gordon is banned for a full year -- then all of time of the quarterbacks working with Gordon is for nothing, and we have less time to know which players can best fill his shoes.
- Getting Some Points on the Board: It's no secret that the Browns' offense struggled to get the ball into the end zone during camp, and they didn't score a touchdown in their first preseason game. The offense lost many of the "competition" battles in camp to the defense. It's about time they pick things up a bit. When you look around the NFL this week, 17 of 30 teams who have played put 24 of more points on the board. Many of those teams got up into the 30s.
- Right Guard is Settled? It's beginning to look like the right guard position is settled: the starting job belongs to John Greco. Greco has a good outing last week and has been getting more reps in practice, while Gilkey did not stand out among the atrocious second-team offensive line play vs. Detroit. Would it be too far of a stretch to say that Gilkey is not even a lock for making the roster?
- Inside Linebacker Heating Up: Besides quarterback, inside linebacker is the top position battle right now. Unlike the guard competition, both of the contenders -- Craig Robertson and Chris Kirksey -- delivered strong performances in extended time against the Lions. Who will succeed in round two? I'm not looking for one of these guys to blow the other one out of the water. If both of these guys continue to raise their game, then that is great news, because it means we the Browns can utilize both of them on gameday.
- Backup Running Back: After Ben Tate and Terrance West, the running back position is very confusing. I thought Chris Ogbonnaya was a respected veteran, Dion Lewis would be lost in the shuffle, and Isaiah Crowell would be the "intriguing" guy who coaches would want to see. Instead, last week against the Lions, Ogbonnaya and Crowell did not see a single snap on offense, while Lewis saw significant action. The practice reps didn't correlate with the game action. This week, maybe we'll find out more answers about what the coaching staff things. If Lewis continues to get more work, then maybe the coaches like him better than we anticipated.
- Bubble Players: Here are five bubble players I want to see this week: WR Taylor Gabriel, WR Charles Johnson, WR Anthony Armstrong, OT Reid Fragel, and OLB Justin Staples. The wide receiver situation is easy to explain: Armstrong has faded a bit in camp, while Gabriel and Johnson have been standing out. I'm interested in seeing how many reps, if any, those three players get with the first-team offense.
Fragel did not play last week due to injury, but I think he'll be ready to play against Washington. If he plays at right tackle with the second-team offensive line, I want to see if we see a greater level of stability in pass protection or run blocking -- if so, Fragel will be a frontrunner to be the team's backup offensive tackle. Staples made some nice plays last week, but I want to see him have a good preseason from start-to-finish, compared to last year, when he faded after the first game.
Game Thread: Our game thread on Dawgs By Nature will go live at 6:00 PM ET, which is two hours before kickoff. Be sure to check in for the second preseason game of the year!