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5 things to look for in Browns vs. Bucs, NFL Preseason Week 3

Can the Browns figure out how to use their athletic tight ends? Could Jabrill Peppers see work on offense? Those are two of five things to watch this Saturday.

Erik Drost on Flickr

The Cleveland Browns take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday for their third and all-important dress rehearsal game of the preseason. DeShone Kizer will make his first start, which should draw a lot of national attention based on how he performs against a pretty good Bucs defense. Here is a preview of what you should look for in the game from the Browns.

Five Things to Look For

1. Kizer Working With the Full Offense: The DeShone Kizer era officially begins on Saturday, and I don’t think even a lackluster performance will keep him from starting against the Steelers in Week 1. You can also see how Kizer’s PFF grades compare to other rookie quarterbacks in this year’s class.

Kizer will have the benefit of being the first to work as the starter for his team in the all-important “dress-rehearsal” game. The biggest advantage that Kizer has this week is the fact that LT Joe Thomas will make his first and only appearance of the preseason, which should elevate the ground game and the amount of time he has in the pocket.

I’m not looking for a picture-perfect half from Kizer, but more drives need to end in points for the first-teamers. Cleveland doesn’t have any first quarter points this preseason, and one of their two second quarter touchdowns was set up by a turnover. Hue Jackson’s comments make it seem as though he’s been setting this up all along for Kizer to start, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he calls a few of his better play calls to get the first-team offense some confidence before Week 1.

2. Wide Receiver Depth Chart: The other day, head coach Hue Jackson said “the pecking order at receiver” after Kenny Britt and Corey Coleman is the biggest undecided position in terms of the rotation. We’re talking about a pool of players that includes:

  • Last Year’s Draft Picks: Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, and Jordan Payton
  • Camp Hype Players: Rannell Hall and Jordan Leslie
  • The Rest: Josh Boyce, Mario Alford, Richard Mullaney, Rasheed Bailey

I can’t say that any of the receivers have been bad. In fact, with the exception of Boyce, I recall them all catching the passes that came their way during the first two preseason games. But how much does that really matter? Mullaney had two big catches in the first preseason game, but has received no reps with the ones. Payton caught a touchdown pass in that first game, but any receiver put in that position probably could’ve won that one-on-one match-up in Cover-0.

I like to look at volume, which is where Hall has 4 catches for 57 yards. It’s not much to go off of, but there’s even less to go off of with Louis (1 catch, 10 yards), Higgins (1 catch, 9 yards), and Leslie (2 catches, 9 yards). The fact that Duke Johnson is working the slot role a lot hasn’t helped those guys get opportunities, and that’s one of the reasons I had the team keeping five instead of six receivers in my 53-man projection the other day.

With the first-teamers playing longer this week, we’ll get a better grasp of which receiver(s) are being given a chance to rotate in with the ones. Maybe the team will just privately hope that Josh Gordon actually comes back in late-September for once.

3. Consistent Defensive Mentality: This is the third year in a row that the Browns and Buccaneers have squared off in the third preseason game. Last year, Jameis Winston shredded the Browns’ defense.

The 2017 defense under Gregg Williams feels like it truly had an extreme makeover across all positions. Through two games, Cleveland is allowing ten points per game. They have more fumble recoveries in two preseason games than they had all of last regular season. I’ve seen a defense that is sharp enough to lead a team to the postseason, but I’m not all-in on the hype just yet. That’s where I want to see Williams’ defense finish out strong for the third game in a row, and this time when the opposition keeps their first-teamers in for an extended duration of time.

4. Getting the Athletic Tight Ends Involved: My excuse for the Browns’ wide receivers not being deep this season was that the athletic tight ends would make up for it. For a variety of reasons, though, David Njoku (1 game) and Seth DeValve (2 games) have combined for 5 catches for 17 yards. The optimistic side of me sees that each tight end had touchdown-worthy seam routes this preseason, but they were overthrown both times by about a foot. Those routes must be hit, but beyond that, I’d like to see more wrinkles of how Njoku and DeValve will be used in the passing game.

5. Jabrill Peppers on Offense? Electric on punt returns, and already getting Brandon Marshall to alligator arm a pass before delivering a blow. Jabrill Peppers has delivered thus far this preseason, but part of me wonders how head coach Hue Jackson will play the psychological game when it comes to Peppers. On one hand, one might say, “No! We should save his [potential] package for the regular season.”

On the other hand, Jackson could use Peppers in this preseason game to ensure it is on other teams’ radars and that they dedicate practice time to preparing for it. Also, you could argue that if the Browns intend to use Peppers on offense, it’d be good to get him some reps in a game that is as close to mattering for the preseason. The “Peppers on offense” talk has quieted down for several weeks, but I’ll be watching to see if it ramps back up here.

Game Thread

Our game thread on Dawgs By Nature will go live at 6:30 PM ET on Saturday, which is an hour before kickoff. Be sure to check in for the third preseason game of the year!

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

On offense, the following players are not expected to play:

OG Joel Bitonio (knee)
OT Cameron Erving (calf)
C Gabe Ikard (concussion)

On defense, the following players are not expected to play:

DT Danny Shelton (knee)
DT Caleb Brantley (shoulder)
DE Cam Johnson (knee)
CB Marcus Burley (face laceration)
FS Ed Reynolds (knee)