The Cleveland Browns will take on the on Thursday for their first game of the preseason. We've been through two weeks of training camp, but the preseason games are where bubble players can either see their stock skyrocket with a good statistical performance or plummet after a couple of snafus versus live competition.
What to Look For - Redskins vs. Browns
- Playing Time: When asked about playing time for the first preseason game, here is what head coach Mike Pettine had to say:
"Probably be typical first game. Get guys – the starters for sure – it will be all an individualized plan. You’ll get some guys that are with the ones that might go into the second quarter; you might get some ones that don’t play at all; and anything in between. It’s just hard to give an actual amount just because you don’t know how the game is going to play out. Things aren’t going well, sometimes you want to keep them out there longer, things are going well you want to pull them sooner or the way that they’re going, their units not getting a lot of reps. that’s very fluid."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: Teams are allowed to carry 90 players on their roster during the offseason, which means there isn't a lot of playing time to go around for players. However, Cleveland will actually be playing with close to 75 players due to all of the injuries players have suffered in camp. We'll run through some of those injuries in the positional descriptions below.
- Quarterbacks: I've been going to training camp for probably five years now, and Josh McCown has by far been the most comfortable-looking quarterback I've seen in Cleveland at this point of the year. That's not to say he's going to be a Top 5 quarterback like Dwayne Bowe said, but I'm expecting him to try to connect on at least one deep ball in the first quarter. People have talked about the Browns needing to be a run-heavy team this year, but I think the passing game is going to play a much bigger role than people anticipate.
So much was made of last year's Robert Griffin III vs. Johnny Manziel match-up on Monday Night Football in the preseason last year, and yet the performances by both players were poor. Manziel has shown a lot of progress in this year's camp and during last Friday's scrimmage, but now comes the real test: when other players are bringing the heat and antagonizing him, will he be able to keep his cool?
Running Game: Despite being in a non-contact jersey on Tuesday, I expect FB Malcolm Johnson to play. I'd like to see how many of the team's run plays he is actually in the game for, or if the team prefers to go with multiple tight end sets when running the ball. Also, which tight ends start the game in those multiple tight end sets -- is it Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray?
Isaiah Crowell should get the start since he's been the only healthy running back for all of camp. Terrance West is back from his calf injury and will probably see a couple of touches. The next four backs on the depth chart, Duke Johnson (hamstring), Shaun Draughn (thumb), Glenn Winston (knee scope), and Luke Lundy (concussion), won't play. That means we'll get to see a little bit of Jalen Parmele and Timothy Flanders. Flanders is a smaller, shifty back, and it wouldn't surprise me if he has a nice-looking run against the third-string type of players.
Receivers: The Browns will be without No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe and the most-hyped receiver Terrelle Pryor due to hamstring injuries. Bowe's roster spot is secure, but any day that Pryor misses hurts his chances at making the team.
Of the receivers who are available, Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins, and Taylor Gabriel should be featured with the first-team offense. If anyone else gets in the first quarter besides Travis Benjamin, it will be a head-turner in terms of their chances at making the 53-man roster. One of the camp darlings the past few days has been Josh Lenz, but Shane Wynn and Darius Jennings also made some noise earlier in camp. Any three of these guys could have some nice plays, but the pressure is also on each of them. One dropped pass could burst their bubble.
I also want to see Vince Mayle and whether he can contribute this year, or if he still looks like a Greg Little clone. At tight end, I really want to see Rob Housler and E.J. Bibbs in action. Housler has probably had the worst camp imaginable thus far, while Bibbs has been the most-discussed undrafted free agent.
Backup OL Competiton? So far, there hasn't been any competition among the starting five as Cameron Erving and Michael Bowie have been with the second-team offense at right guard and right tackle, respectively. I will be keeping a watchful eye on both of them after the first-teamers leave. For Erving, it's about whether he possesses that X-factor yet to make him creep up the depth chart. For Bowie, it's whether he's all hype or a legitimate player.
The Man, the Myth, the Legend: This may sound like a ridiculous statement, but the key to the Browns' 2015 season could lay with NT Danny Shelton. I have been so impressed with how dominant of a camp he's been having. There are times in the past where we say or hear fluffy things like, "oh, this guy can take up two blockers, which will free everybody else up for one-on-one match-ups," but it truly does end up just being fluff. I think Shelton is already there, and if he does what I think he can do, everybody else on the defense will actually have those one-on-one type of situations we've always fantasized about.
Cornerback Depth: Even though Pierre Desir is going to be out, it's doubtful that we see Justin Gilbert play with the first-team defense. Gilbert could play the second and third quarters with the second-team defense, though, and we should get a good look as to how much his technique has improved from a year ago. I don't think he can leap over Desir in just one preseason game, but a strong showing won't hurt.
First Glimpse of the Uniforms: I'm not a big fan of the white-on-white, but that is what the Browns will debut for the preseason opener. It is unclear as to whether this is what they plan on using at home long-term, or if they are trying to keep their season-opener uniforms a secret for a "big reveal," so-to-speak.
- 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:
-DL Armonty Bryant - Will being stuck between DL/OLB be an asset for the Browns, or a liability for Bryant to really be able to find his niche?
-DL Dylan Wynn - Has been getting some good reviews and even saw a couple of first-team reps in camp as an undrafted free agent. With Billy Winn still out, does the other Wynn show enough to warrant another look?
-K Carey Spear and K Travis Coons - Who does the kickoffs? Who gets the first opportunity to kick an extra point or field goal? This will be a camp-long competition, but Coons has had the early advantage in camp.
Game Thread: Our game thread on Dawgs By Nature will go live at 6:30 PM ET, which is an hour and a half before kickoff. Be sure to check in for the first preseason game of the year!
Predict the Score of Tonight's Game: