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Browns vs. Bucs, NFL Preseason Week 3: Position Battles to Watch

Erik Drost on Flickr

The Cleveland Browns have already been in Tampa for a couple of practices this week, and on Friday, they’ll play their third 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:
RB Glenn Winston (shoulder/illness)
WR Ricardo Louis (hamstring)
OL Cory Tucker (lower leg)

On defense, the following players are not expected to play:
DL Nile Lawrence-Stample (shoulder)
CB Trey Caldwell (hamstring)

Five Things to Look For

1. An Offensive Explosion: After last week’s performance against the Falcons, I almost felt like the offense had nothing to prove the rest of the preseason. Let’s just focus on the defense these final two games, right? Well, that changed when WR Corey Coleman, WR Josh Gordon, and WR Andrew Hawkins all took part in the joint practices this week. All three players are expected to play against the Buccaneers, joining the mix of WR Terrelle Pryor and TE Gary Barnidge with the first-team offense.

It’s remarkable how quickly the national tune about Cleveland’s offense has turned positive. With Gordon not set to take part in the regular season until Week 5 against New England, this will be a glimpse at what this team can be like at full throttle. As far as the intricacies go, I want to see what type of formations Gordon is used in — is it as an outside receiver, or would they dare try putting him in the slot? We know he always looks lethargic when he plays, so don’t worry about that too much — the bigger concern is whether he knows the playbook and is getting into his routes at the right spot.

2. Hashing Out the Defensive Line: After two preseason games, Ray Horton can’t be pleased with how the defensive line has been performing. The question now is whether we’ll see a shake-up in the third preseason game. John Hughes has been back from his personal matter and should be ready to play. Historically, he’s been the team’s best run-defending lineman and is looking to anchor a starting role for the first time in his career. That type of move can get Nick Hayden out of the way.

The other change I’d like to push for is DE Carl Nassib. Yes, there is such a thing as bringing a guy along slowly, but this defense needs playmakers and through two games, Nassib’s been the biggest one, albeit with the second-team defense.

If we’re talking about who is safe, I think the Browns’ top group of Hughes, Nassib, Danny Shelton, Xavier Cooper, and Jamie Meder are safe (note: I’m not counting Ogbah at defensive end right now). When this first batch of cuts is due next week, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Cleveland claim someone from another club.

3. The Nickelback Spot & Justin Gilbert: The Browns just said goodbye to OLB Barkevious Mingo via a trade to the New England Patriots, so they aren’t going to be too tied to first-round picks of the previous regime. That puts CB Justin Gilbert in the crosshairs. He’s spent all offseason as a first-team cornerback, up through last week’s game against the Falcons. With CB Joe Haden back and CB Jamar Taylor being promoted from nickelback to starter, though, what happens to Gilbert? Does he see any reps with the first-team defense in certain packages, or is he completely out of the first-team defense?

I’ll also be interested in seeing if Tramon Williams actually sticks at the nickelback spot throughout the first half. The demotion might have been the start of slowly easing him off the team completely, and we’ll get a hint of that if somebody other than Williams is playing the nickel spot with Haden and Taylor in the first half.

4. Flipping the Script at Kicker: This past week, K Travis Coons confirmed that he basically changed his approach to kicking this offseason at the request of the team so that he could get more lift on his kicks. That might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Anyone who has played sports knows that once you have a certain swing, a throwing motion a shooting style, etc, it’s not easy to make such a drastic change. Coons’ misses this camp and preseason can be attributed to this switch. That obviously won’t fly for the regular season, but maybe if he keeps working at it, there will still be enough time for him to get it down pat. Then, all he needs is a bad day from K Patrick Murray, and then he could be right back on top.

5. Gunners & Kick Coverage: The first batch of roster cuts are due next week, and this is where a lot of players on the back end of the depth chart are going to stick if they can prove they can play special teams efficiently. I’ll be paying closer attention this week to see which players are the gunners, upbacks, blockers on kick returns, protectors on punts and field goals, etc. in the first half. That might tip us off as to which of the unknown players is actually closer to nabbing a roster spot than we might think.

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 third preseason game of the year!