The Cleveland Browns will take on the Detroit Lions on Saturday for their first game of the preseason. We often head into the first preseason game blind on how the units will execute; sure, there are all of the reports from training camp, but when you're competing in an actual game against somebody other than your teammates, everything can change.
What to Look For - Browns vs. Lions
- Playing Time: According to head coach Mike Pettine, QB Brian Hoyer will see all of the reps with the first-team offense, while QB Johnny Manziel will be with the second-team offense. He stressed that he does not want to mix the units against the Lions. When asked on Thursday, Pettine would not give a target snap count for each unit, but in previous pressers, he has said that he expects the units to play a bit longer than they normally do because the players are leaning new systems this year.
Here are my projections for the units:
-1st teamers = 2-3 series or the entire first quarter
-2nd teamers = The entire second quarter, and one series in the third quarter
-3rd teamers = The rest of the game
- Injury Replacements: TE Jordan Cameron (shoulder) has already been ruled out for the game, and the status of CB Justin Gilbert is up-in-the-air as he deals with a groin injury. Other than that, most of the Browns' top contributors should be on the field. ILB Darius Eubanks, OT Reid Fragel, OL Randall Harris, OLB Eric Martin, C Alex Parsons, and OL Nick McDonald did not make the trip to Detroit due to injuries, and have therefore already been ruled out.
The Contributions of Terrance West: I'm not overlooking RB Ben Tate, but I want to see how RB Terrance West looks against live competition. I was not overly impressed when I saw him on film from his college days, but at the three training camp sessions I've been to, he's looked quite impressive. We should get to see how much the Browns plan on working West into the first-team offense.
Who is Next-in-Line at RB? It's been clear who the top two running backs in camp are, but it's been impossible to tell in training camp who the front office likes at the next best running back after them. Undrafted free agent Isaiah Crowell has a lot of supporters, but if he doesn't get any carries against the Lions, that wouldn't be a good sign for landing a spot on the 53-man roster. Is Chris Ogbonnaya going to become an afterthought? Will Dion Lewis be utilized after all? Could Edwin Baker, last year's end-of-the-season-wonder, sneak in for reps? We'll know a lot more about the depth chart at running back after this game is over.
How Soon Do Snead & Johnson Play? The two receivers I'm more excited to watch are WR Willie Snead (No. 83) and WR Charles Johnson (No. 80). Johnson has had a very quiet camp compared to all of the pre-camp buzz he was getting, but maybe he'll be able to put it all together when there is live game action. Snead has been the best undrafted free agent on the team and has had a couple of instances where he's gotten some first- or second-team reps. I don't think he'll see the field that early against the Lions, but if he does, it'll be a great sign for his odds of making the roster.
Offensive Guard Play: Although he seems penciled in for a starting role, this will really be my first time getting an in-depth look at what second-round pick Joel Bitonio can do. On the other side, I wouldn't be surprised to see a continued rotation with John Greco and Garrett Gilkey at right guard. The big key for both players is to not have any significant blunders -- things that would jump out to even the casual fan. Then, after the game, we can take a further look at how well each of them fit in the zone-blocking scheme.
Utilization of MarQueis Gray: I don't think the Browns will get too creative during the preseason with how they will eventually utilize MarQueis Gray at the fullback position, but he is a player I will have my eye on. Does he open a good hole for the running backs? I also saw a play in training camp where he motioned to an outside receiver spot and then gave a nice block on the edge for RB Ben Tate. I think we could see that against Detroit at least once.
Defense Centers on Robertson vs. Kirksey: Of course I'd love to see our defense look dominant like they have in practice against the Lions, but heading into the preseason, I really don't care much about the defensive line or the secondary. I already know those units are deep. The one position that remains up-for-grabs is at inside linebacker, featuring Craig Robertson vs. Chris Kirksey. Mike Pettine found a stud linebacker in Buffalo last year, and he could be looking to do the same with Kirksey, who is a better pass defender than Robertson.
Watch Out for the Backup Center: In all of the training camp sessions thus far, after C Alex Mack, the center position has been a complete disaster for Cleveland. With Alex Parsons ruled out, the only player we expect to get backup reps is OL Jeremiah Warren. Don't be surprised if you see a lot of erroneous snaps, which could hurt the productivity of QB Johnny Manziel and QB Tyler Thigpen.
- Bubble Players: Heading into the first preseason game, I don't like to talk about the bubble players as much. That is more appropriate heading into the second- and third-preseason games, because we actually have a lot of stuff to go off of. If I had to pick a couple of lower-level guys to watch who I haven't mentioned already, though, they would be:
-WR Taylor Gabriel, a small, quick receiver who is similar in build to Andrew Hawkins.
-DT Jacobbi McDaniel, who was one of the stars at Family Night.
-FS Josh Aubrey, who was solid in the preseason last year and has made some plays on the ball in camp, but dropped on the depth chart when veteran Jim Leonhard was signed.
Game Thread: Our game thread on Dawgs By Nature will go live at 6:00 PM ET, which is an hour and a half before kickoff. Be sure to check in for the first preseason game of the year!