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Browns vs. Packers, NFL Preseason Week 1: Position Battles to Watch

Erik Drost on Flickr

The Cleveland Browns take on the Green Bay Packers on Friday for their first game of the preseason, and the first game of the Hue Jackson-Robert Griffin III era Here is a preview of what you should look for in the game from the Browns.

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

On offense, the following players are not expected to play:
WR Corey Coleman (hamstring)
WR Josh Gordon (quadriceps)
WR Andrew Hawkins (hamstring)
TE Seth DeValve (hamstring)

On defense, the following players are not expected to play:
DE John Hughes (personal)
DL Nile Lawrence-Stample (undisclosed)
CB Joe Haden (ankle)
CB Trey Caldwell (hamstring)

Five Things to Look For

1. The Right Tackle Competition: All offseason, the Browns had veteran Alvin Bailey penciled in as their starting right tackle. When he was there at the start of training camp, the assumption was that he’d be there for a good portion of camp, which made it a surprise when last week, rookie fifth-round pick Spencer Drango replaced him with the first-team offense at right tackle. The last three practices have seen Austin Pasztor run with the ones at right tackle. This is the definition of an open competition, and we haven’t even seen Shon Coleman enter the mix yet. We’ll be paying close attention to how each player performs at right tackle to see who the team can count on to replace the departed Mitchell Schwartz.

2. Can Travis Coons Hang On? It’s been a rough couple of days for K Travis Coons. I set my expectation level high for him, wanting to see improved distance on kickoffs and better lift on his long-distance kicks. Reports say that K Patrick Murray, his competition in camp, has been better on kickoffs, and the one practice I went to, Coons missed three field goals while Murray didn’t miss any. Coons still has several weeks to get on the right path, and coming through in live-game situations can be a good cure-all. This is really a three-man competition, though: the team will be paying attention to the waiver wire in case somebody lets a veteran loose.

3. Robert Griffin III & Terrelle Pryor: We definitely know we’ll see QB Robert Griffin III for a series or two. Griffin won’t be a key player to watch in every preseason game, but since this is the first one, it’s the main attraction if you’re a Browns fan. It’ll be nice to get a feel for just how well head coach Hue Jackson has been able to mold him into a refined version of his former self, or if we’ll see a lot of his “progress” go out the window once the lights are on bright. And, with Cameron Erving at center and an unknown at right tackle, can Griffin escape the night healthy as the line learns to play together?

Normally, I’d make WR Terrelle Pryor his own bullet point, but I did that last year and was burned by him missing time due to injury. On Wednesday, right as practice was about to end, he had his calf wrapped, but wasn’t ruled out for Friday’s game. I’m hoping he just had cramps only, because that wouldn’t prevent him from suiting up. Pryor has taken a lot of steps forward already as a receiver, but he needs exposure to live action where he’ll be taking hits and getting pressed at the line of scrimmage.

4. Making Sense of the Front Seven: We’ve had 11 days of training camp in Berea, and yet I feel like I know nothing about our front seven. How much will Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib, and Joe Schobert be used? Will Barkevious Mingo see action with the first-team defense? Danny Shelton dominated in the preseason as a rookie; how will his weight loss affect him as a sophomore? Is Demario Davis a good enough replacement for Karlos Dansby? Who is next-in-line at inside linebacker after Davis and Christian Kirksey? I could go on-and-on about questions relating to the front seven, but a lot of them will start being answered after the first preseason game when we evaluate reps, packages, and performance.

5. Justin Gilbert & Pierre Desir: The first- and fourth-round picks from 2014, respectively, will have to prove to Ray Horton that they have what it takes to contribute to the secondary. Justin Gilbert should get to run with the first-team defense, and he has to take advantage of the opportunity before Joe Haden comes back. The extra playing time might continue to expose Gilbert as a poor-technique-corner, but we need to see enough tape of him so the most informed decision can be made on whether to keep or cut him. When it comes to Desir, I’ve kind of written off his transition to safety as a desperation move and a sign that he’s on the way out. With that said, a strong performance by him could flip that opinion in an instant, but he’ll probably be doing so with the third-team defense.

Bubble Players to Watch

The following players have had an impressive start to camp, so keep an eye on them: WR Rashard Higgins, TE E.J. Bibbs, TE Connor Hamlett, CB Jamar Taylor.

The following players would seem to thrive once the “contact” goes live, so keep an eye on them: RB Terrell Watson, ILB Joe Schobert, ILB Scooby Wright.

Game Thread

Our game thread on Dawgs By Nature will go live at 7:00 PM ET on Friday, which is an hour before kickoff. Be sure to check in for the first preseason game of the year!