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

NFL: Atlanta Falcons-Training Camp Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns host the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday for their second game of the preseason. 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:
QB Austin Davis (concussion)
RB Glenn Winston (shoulder)
WR Josh Gordon (quadriceps)
WR Andrew Hawkins (hamstring)
WR Ricardo Louis (hamstring)
WR Dennis Parks (knee)
LT Joe Thomas (back)

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

Gordon, Hughes, and Haden have all returned to practice this past week, but are not expected to play until the third preseason game.

Five Things to Look For

1. The Nickel Corner Situation: With everything that has happened with CB K’Waun Williams over the past couple of days, including the eve of Thursday’s game, his future with the Browns is in doubt. At the very least, we know he’s not going to be ready for the start of the regular season, which puts more focus on the nickel corner situation.

Jamar Taylor is the favorite to fill that role, but the door has now opened for someone like Charles Gaines to better compete as the next-man-up instead of being buried with the third-team defense. Trey Caldwell has missed most of camp with a hamstring injury, so he hasn’t had a chance to show what he’s made of despite being drafted to compete at the position. Eric Patterson, Tracy Howard, and Mikell Everette have each had their moments in camp on the back end of the depth chart, but are likely competing for outside spots.

One more note about the cornerback position: this will again be a big week for Justin Gilbert. He was done a disservice last week by the Packers choosing to run the ball against the first-team defense. Joe Haden may return for the third preseason game, so this could be Gilbert’s last big opportunity to show how he handles the spotlight.

2. Jamie Meder as a Starter: The Browns appear ready to use DL Jamie Meder as a starting defensive end this week in place of DL Xavier Cooper. Assuming the first-team defense plays most of the first half, then what I’d really be interested in seeing is how the defensive line rotation works this week.

Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib were both pretty impressive last week with the second-team defense. When you consider that the Browns seem to like Cooper, Meder, Ogbah, Nassib, and John Hughes, then is there really an incentive to plugging a veteran like Nick Hayden in as a placeholder for one of the starting defensive end spots? (The answer is a definitive NO.) So, will Ogbah and Nassib get any rotational work with the first-team defense this week?

The first preseason game also wasn’t a very good one for NT Danny Shelton, and he was involved in a fight at camp this week. There have been some rumors that Meder could be getting a closer look at nose tackle, but I hope that we don’t actually see Shelton lose reps just yet. Yes, last week was bad, but my thought process heading into the season was that Shelton was one of the most important players on defense, and I can’t throw that away after one game. If this continues over the next three games, though, they a Week 1 decision will warrant a lot more merit.

3. More Action for the Running Game: Last week, Isaiah Crowell got 1 carry for -2 yards, while Duke Johnson got 1 carry for 11 yards. That is way too small of a sample size to go off of, so I expect to see Hue Jackson try to get the running game going early against Atlanta. In my opinion, it’s less important to “get Crowell [or Johnson] some touches” and more important to see how the offensive line performs, particularly at center with Cameron Erving and right tackle with Austin Pasztor. I’m a little worried that the evaluation will be thrown off by Joe Thomas likely taking the game off. There has been no word on who would start at left tackle for Thomas. Dan France is next on the depth chart, but Cleveland could also try rookie Shon Coleman there.

4. The Debut of Corey Coleman: The status of WR Corey Coleman could be a game-time decision. He returned to practice this week after sitting out over a week with a hamstring injury that the team deemed as minor. With Coleman expected to be the team’s No. 1 weapon on offense — which is a big load to put on a rookie’s shoulders — I think it’s important to get him going against live competition as soon as possible so he can adjust to the nuances of the NFL. If Coleman plays, it’ll be interesting to see if they also give him reps at punt returner.

5. Backup Inside Linebacker: Watching last week’s preseason game, the competition to see who will be the backup inside linebacker to Demario Davis and Christian Kirksey really came to light. Justin Tuggle and Tank Carder were the second-unit group, with Dominique Alexander and Scooby Wright in the third grouping. I was most impressed with the instincts of Wright, so I’d like to see him move up to that second unit. The competition is very much open, though, with even Barkevious Mingo seeing a little bit of action there. Speaking of Mingo, he had a disappointing start to the preseason and needs to rebound this week.

Game Thread

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