The Cleveland Browns will take on the Chicago Bears on Thursday for their fourth and final game of the preseason. The majority of the starters will not play, including starting QB Josh McCown. This game is all about the remaining players on the bubble who are trying to make one last impression on the coaching staff and other teams around the NFL. Here is a preview of what you should look for in the game from the Browns.
Injury Report - Who's In, Who's Out?
Remember that most starters are not likely to play, so I am not listing first-team players here.
On offense, the following players are not expected to play:
QB Johnny Manziel (elbow)
RB Duke Johnson (concussion)
On defense, the following players are not expected to play:
OLB Barkevious Mingo (knee)
OLB Nate Orchard (back)
S Jordan Poyer (concussion)
CB K'Waun Williams (abdominal)
CB Pierre Desir (concussion)
CB Charles Gaines (hamstring)
CB Justin Gilbert (hip), RB Shaun Draughn (thumb) and WR Terrelle Pryor (hamstring) might play.
Five Things to Look For
1. Let's Try This Again With Pryor: There are so many questions when it comes to whether Terrelle Pryor will make the final roster that I could have a never-ending dialogue with myself. On one hand, isn't it a good sign for Pryor that he made it past the first batch of cuts? If the team had already decided to pass up on Pryor, wouldn't he have been waived along with other veteran players like OLB Everette Brown, CB Aaron Ross, NT Ishmaa'ily Kitchen, and NT Phil Taylor? On the other hand, if this guy hasn't even played a game as a wide receiver, how can you utilize a 53-man roster spot on him?
The other day, Pryor said that his hamstring feels better and that he hopes to play this week, but that he's still not close to 100 percent. Head coach Mike Pettine said that if Pryor does play, they are going to limit his reps. All of that makes me think that the team is taking an extended training camp approach with Pryor -- they feel like his potential outweighs his inexperience at the position, and he's worth keeping on the 53-man roster for a couple of games until his hamstring is fully healed. Then, they could start throwing him in to a couple of games for some niche roles, and even as a contributor on special teams.
2. Shaping the Final 53-Man Roster: My final roster projection for the Browns will be posted either Thursday night or early Friday morning. The deadline for the Browns to get down to 53 players will be Saturday, September 5 at 4:00 PM ET. Teams can start signing players to their practice squads on Sunday, September 6, at 12:00 PM ET. That means at least 22 players currently on the roster will have to be waived, terminated, or placed on an injury list. Some of them will be fairly obvious, while others are still down-to-the-wire. The final three bullet points explain jobs on the back-end of the depth chart that could still be up-for-grabs.
3. Defensive Line Battle: The following jobs should be locked up: NT Danny Shelton, DE Desmond Bryant, DE Randy Starks, DL John Hughes, and DT Xavier Cooper. With the Browns having waived a pair of nose tackles the other day (Phil Taylor and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen), there is reason to believe that NT Jamie Meder will win a roster spot. If that's the case, then that is six defensive linemen who are secure.
Cleveland will keep either seven or eight defensive linemen. I think it will end up being eight, with one of those players, DL Armonty Bryant, being viewed as more of an edge rusher. That leaves one more spot. The departure of Taylor and Kitchen make it more likely that veteran DL Billy Winn will make the roster after many had written him off. With that said, DL Dylan Wynn made noise earlier in camp, so we could be in for a "winner/wynner"-take-all battle between Winn and Wynn. Both players should receive significant action in the final preseason game. I personally would not play Shelton a single down -- he is too valuable of a commodity to this team.
4. Other Jobs Up for Grabs: At tight end, Rob Housler and E.J. Bibbs are both expected to see the bulk of the playing time. I think Bibbs has been impressive enough to where his job should be fairly secure, and even a big-time receiving day from Housler might not save him.
On the offensive line, we know who the top six linemen are, and I think Andrew McDonald has shown the ability to be the seventh linemen. Cleveland would like for somebody else to step up to show their worth as a possible eighth lineman, or as linemen for the practice squad.
The Browns kept a lot of defensive backs last year, and the competition will heat up there in the final preseason game as CB Robert Nelson is finally expected to return from a hamstring injury. Is it too late for Nelson to show why he was a special teams contributor for this club a year ago, or will somebody else like S Landon Feichter, CB Kendall James, or S De'Ante Saunders win a roster spot? If any of them win a roster spot, it would probably be at the expense of CB Johnson Bademosi, and I'm not sure I see a scenario where that plays out.
5. Pressure Not Over for Coons: Even though K Travis Coons has out-lasted K Carey Spear in the first round of cuts, the pressure is far from off. Coons will kick the entire fourth preseason game, but if he goes 0-for-2 like the Buccaneers' kicker did last week, he could easily be headed right back out the door in favor of Spear or another kicker who gets cut by a different team.
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 final preseason game of the year!
Predict the Score