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Bills vs. Browns, NFL Preseason Week 2: Position Battles to Watch

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Here are the things that Cleveland Browns fans should look for in Thursday's preseason game against the Buffalo Bills.

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns will take on the Buffalo Bills on Thursday for their second game of the preseason. Our film review of last week's preseason game is here.

One element that the fans need to be reminded of is that in the preseason, it's often best to judge players on an individual basis and not a team basis. Plays are called to evaluate players and are not based on the coaches having studied the weaknesses of the other team. The run defense was a concern among fans last week, but how much of a sample size did we really get to see with the first-team defense? Most of the players after that won't see significant playing time this season or won't even make the roster.

Injury Report - Who's In, Who's Out?

On offense, the following players are not expected to play:
QB Connor Shaw (right thumb)
RB Duke Johnson Jr. (hamstring)
RB Shaun Draughn (hand)
RB Glenn Winston (knee)
RB Luke Lundy (concussion)
WR Dwayne Bowe (hamstring)
WR Terrelle Pryor (hamstring)
WR Marlon Moore (ribs)
TE Randall Telfer (foot)

On defense, the following players are not expected to play:
OLB Barkevious Mingo (knee)
CB Joe Haden (hamstring)
CB K’Waun Williams (abdominal)
CB Justin Gilbert (hip flexor)
CB Pierre Desir (hamstring)
CB Robert Nelson Jr. (hamstring)
DB De’Ante Saunders (calf)
CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (knee)
FS Tashaun Gipson (calf)

Five Things to Look For

1. The Defensive Backs: As you can see from the injury report above, the position that is really hurting for the Browns is the secondary. While none of the injuries are serious, the team is going to let the players heal so they can be good-to-go for the third preseason game on the road against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

With FS Tashaun Gipson out, S Jordan Poyer is expected to start. Both he and S Ibraheim Campbell should play a significant portion of the game. CB Tramon Williams should start, and opposite him we will see either CB Kendall James or CB Charles Gaines. Either way, when the Browns go to the nickel, I'd expect all three of those players to be on the field to start the game, with either Gaines or Williams playing the slot. Once Williams' first-team reps are done, expect James and Gaines to continue getting some work, along with CB Johnson Bademosi and recently-signed veteran CB Aaron Ross.

Gaines is the most interesting prospect to watch. He was a sixth-round pick who many believe has great upside for the future. Given how deep the Browns' secondary is, though, it's hard to say whether the team will have a spot on the 53-man roster for him. If Gaines can impress in coverage and on special teams, then he might win a job as a gunner over Bademosi.

2. More Mauling from Danny Shelton: Rookie NT Danny Shelton drew positive reviews during his first preseason game and the praise kept on coming during the joint practice session with the Bills. Take a look at how Shelton handled Bills starting C Eric Wood:

Shelton also wasn't afraid to get physical with OG Richie Incognito. Incognito and Bills head coach Rex Ryan were quick to praise Shelton, so it sounds like he's already quickly achieving the rare feat of a rookie to gain the respect of others. Will Shelton's highlight reel continue on Thursday?

3. More Clarity on E.J. Bibbs' Roster Odds: Through the first three weeks of training camp, the top "unknown" player to make a splash is TE E.J. Bibbs. He made several catches during last week's preseason game and saw some first-team reps in 7-on-7 drills this week. Is the next step him receiving some reps with the first-team offense during 11-on-11 drills? Bibbs seems to be ahead of veteran TE Rob Housler at this point, but one preseason game could flip the script back in favor of Housler. We'll be watching this battle closely.

4. Getting the Running Game in Sync: Last week, the running game didn't click for the Browns, and things aren't going to get any easier against the Bills' dominant defensive front. When Cleveland faced Buffalo last season (minus C Alex Mack), RB Isaiah Crowell only had 29 yards on 17 carries. Cleveland doesn't need Crowell or RB Terrance West to break a huge run, but it would be nice to see them get a few 4- to 5-yard gains before taking a seat for the night. We're not sure if the Browns are going to rest LT Joe Thomas again either -- if not, rookie OL Cameron Erving will start and draw the tough match-up of OLB Jerry Hughes.

5. Can Vince Mayle Quiet the Buzz? During the first week or so of camp, the top story was about WR Terrelle Pryor and whether he could make the roster (and if so, who wouldn't make the roster)? The buzz tapered off a little once he suffered a hamstring injury and missed the first preseason game, but it started to build back up after he returned to practice in full pads on Monday. Then, on Tuesday, it was discovered that he tweaked his hamstring again, meaning he'll likely miss another preseason game. That sucked the life out of what would have been the most interesting storyline of this game.

With the buzz around Pryor deflated, there is one receiver who could put a dagger in his roster odds, and that is rookie fourth-round pick Vince Mayle. Mayle has been a big question mark in camp. He hasn't had a poor camp and has made some catches here and there, but nothing that produces the "wow" factor. Surely the Browns wouldn't just cut a fourth-round pick, but if they do keep him on the roster, wouldn't they want him to contribute as a rookie? The coaches have bragged about Mayle's game speed, so a couple of big plays from the rookie could make the discussions about Pryor start to fade even more.

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!

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