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10 things to watch in the Browns’ Week 1 match-up and the NFL

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The Browns have a new look in the end zone, along with some more culture added to the Dawg Pound. Plus, Gregg Williams talks Jabrill Peppers, Week 1 NFL picks, and more.

Erik Drost on Flickr

Welcome to Week 1 of the NFL! For several years at Dawgs By Nature, during the regular season, I have generally stuck with the same type of coverage format leading up to a game — i.e. TV maps, Q&A with our next opponent, injury report, and the preview/prediction. All of those features will continue to stick. However, I’ve decided to make changes with some other regular in-season features.

Pokorny’s 10 Things to Watch in Week 1 - Browns and the NFL

1. What’s New at DBN? I will no longer do an article predicting each game’s result in the NFL that week, and The Sunday Five is also no more. However, the flavor of both of those articles are simply being merged into a new Saturday afternoon/evening article, which will feature a varying amount of Sunday Five-style notes about the Cleveland Browns, their opponent that week, and a raw listing of my picks for the week.

No one ever commented on the picks article in the past, so I’d rather dedicate more time to writing about the Browns. While I loved doing The Sunday Five, I’d always finish writing it on Friday or Saturday, only to schedule it to post Sunday morning. Before people could even read it, the game was starting. Scheduling this to post Saturday will hopefully give fans more time to digest and comment on it.

2. Browns Going Back to Cursive End Zones: For the past couple of years, the Browns have had the end zone painted brown with orange lettering. As you can see in the team’s published panoramic photo of the stadium below, they appear to be returning to green grass and then cursive lettering.

As Browns Chalk Talk pointed out below, that would be reminiscent of how the end zones looked at Cleveland Municipal Stadium in the 1980s.

3. Dawg Pound & Uniform Notes: On Friday, the Browns’ Twitter account released the following promo below, adding that, “There is one section that deserves its own sign. That section is reserved for the most passionate, the nastiest, loudest fans in the NFL ... [the Dawg Pound].”

It was a nice acknowledgment to a section that has probably been mis-marketed for many years now. To my surprise, the promo was a sign for what to actually expect on the wall at the Dawg Pound side of the field, as seen in the photos below. If you go back up to the previous bullet point and pay attention to the panoramic view, you can see that this signage takes up the entire wall of the Dawg Pound side. That’ll add some nice culture to things if Cleveland starts stringing together touchdowns and victories.

Also, a quick note about the Browns’ uniforms in 2017. In our pre-game primer, we highlighted that the team will wear white jerseys, white pants, and orange socks for the home opener. As a follow-up to fan questions, the Browns’ Twitter account revealed the following details for the rest of the season:

  • The white jersey, white pants combination will be used a lot this season.
  • The orange jersey, orange pants combination will not be used this season. It hasn’t been used once since the new uniforms were unveiled, and maybe that’s a good thing since fans voted it as their least preferred combination back in 2015.
  • When the Browns host the Tennessee Titans on October 22, Cleveland will wear brown jerseys and brown pants.

4. Kevin Hogan as the Backup: On Friday, head coach Hue Jackson named Kevin Hogan the team’s backup quarterback over Cody Kessler for Week 1’s game against Pittsburgh. Although Jackson refused to commit to that long-term, you can bank on it being a done deal because not enough happens for the backups in practice to warrant an in-season change. Here is why Hue said he is going with Hogan:

“He just kept making plays. He just kept making plays. I think we all saw that. He did some things really well. The guy can move around and complete balls and make plays with the ball. The one thing for me as a head coach, I think you reward people who play really, really well and do the things that you need done, not that I am saying that Cody doesn’t. Kevin did and he showed that so I am giving him the first crack at it.”

It’ll be interesting to see if Jackson decided to utilize a package in which Hogan sees a few snaps at quarterback. That might be too gimmicky for some fans, especially since DeShone Kizer has some good mobility, but we saw Hogan’s read-option work for the tune of 100+ yards rushing last season against the Bengals. Couple that with the fact that his throwing ability has improved tenfold, and it could make for an interesting wrinkle.

5. Gregg Williams on the Utilization of Peppers: During his Friday press conference, Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was asked about whether he’s excited to see Jabrill Peppers in action this week. Here is what he said:

“I am. I tried to make him pay the price, too, brought him on slowly, and I’m anxious for you all to see the instincts that he has. You will see him play lots of different positions, and you will see him do hopefully some things with his hands on the ball in the return game, and if we can get some returns on defense, if we can get the ball in his hands on defense, too. He has had a really good week of practice. He fits into what we like to do defensively with cutting those guys loose there in the back end. He is very smart. He is somewhat like a quarterback on the field. You will see him and (LB Joe) Schobert do a lot of the managing of the calls and the adjustments, and he has done very well.”

Two things are interesting about what he said. First, he echoed what he said prior to camp: that Peppers will “play lots of different positions,” which would be a contrast to this preseason, when he was (somewhat surprisingly) only at free safety. It sounds like one of the things that Williams did not want to tip his hat about to the Steelers was how they’ll be using Peppers.

The second thing is that he singled out Joe Schobert as being there to manage a lot of the calls and adjustments. I’ve said how impressed I’ve been with Schobert’s ability, and clearly, Williams is too. I’ve gone from thinking that middle linebacker would seldom be used in this defense, to now believing it’ll play a big role in what Cleveland does.

One other note: I’m still waiting to see if there is some package that involves Peppers on offense. We never saw it during training camp or the preseason, despite the fact that he was hinted at when he was first drafted. Could it be something that was kept completely under wraps, so that the hype would die down only for the team to unleash it?

6. Preparing to the Max: One thing is for sure about Gregg Williams: if his defense doesn’t pull it off against Pittsburgh, it won’t be for a lack of preparation. According to Patrick Maks of Browns.com, Williams and his defensive staff have been preparing for this opening game since June.

Williams’ used a lot of blitzing and creativity this preseason, which is probably more than I’m accustom to seeing teams do in games that don’t count. Between Peppers’ position and the extensive gameplan he’s been putting together, you have to feel confident that Cleveland’s gameplan will be solid and aggressive defensively; now, it’s just up to the players to execute, something they did all preseason.

7. The Kicking Competition & Special Teams Coverage: On Friday, special teams coordinator Chris Tabor was asked about the kicking competition between the winner (Zane Gonzalez) and the loser (Cody Parkey). Tabor spoke highly on both players, saying he believes they had two of the top 32 kickers in the NFL in camp, and that the competition was really close. He said he doesn’t make personnel decisions, but also hinted that he didn’t think the competition was still up-in-the-air when Gonzalez missed the extra point in the final preseason game — that would seem to indicate that he would’ve picked Gonzalez as his kicker too.

Tabor also provided some insight on who his core special teamers are now that Tank Carder is on injured reserve:

“We are going to have some new, young guys in there and I am excited about it. For example, (RB) Matthew Dayes, who is our third running back, he is a guy that through the preseason really shined and has done an excellent job for us. You can see him in the punt coverage that he is first down there. He is a guy that you have to contend with. He is an extremely smart football player. We have (LBs James) Burgess, (B.J.) Bello and Dominique Alexander still with us. Obviously, (WR) Ricardo (Louis) is playing on the outside, and the pick-up of (WR) Sammie Coates helps us also on the outside there so we will have some new guys. I will be honest with you, that is the fun part about special teams is you have some new guys and it is their opportunity to play. Put them in spots where they can make some plays and go to work.”

8. Slight Committment to Rashard Higgins: We wondered whether Rashard Higgins, Jordan Payton, Jordan Leslie, or Rannell Hall would make Cleveland’s roster out of camp. None of them are on the active roster, and only Higgins made it to the practice squad -- but there is one nugget that indicates they haven’t completely written “Hollywood” off.

The minimum rate for the practice squad is $7,200 a week. For players who have multiple offers to be on practice squads, they’re going to command a higher amount. Therefore, one might believe that a team could be interested in plucking Higgins off the team’s practice squad at some point. To be honest, I’m fine with that. I’m much more intrigued by Kasen Williams, who Mike Hoag highlighted the other day. He already got off to a good start this week in practice, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets some one-on-one reps on Sunday:

In other former Browns receiver news, the New England Patriots worked Payton out on Friday. I feel for Hall, who I think had a model camp. It’s tough to work your way him as a relatively unknown receiver in the NFL, especially if the team you spent all of camp with decides not to give you a roster spot.

9. NFL Week 1 Picks: Here are my Week 1 picks, along with a few notes.

  • I think the Jets will be an awful team every week, to where they could lose by 21 points with the other team not even trying.
  • Chicago isn’t quite as bad in the NFC, but they’re also the worst team in the NFC in my opinion by a good margin. Atlanta’s offense might be shaky without Kyle Shanahan keeping things together.
  • I’m not confident in Cincinnati’s offensive line, but I don’t think Baltimore has enough firepower on either side of the ball to make them pay.
  • The Jaguars could be a very frustrating team due to Blake Bortles, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if things go much better than expected for them. For now, I’m sticking with Houston’s defense to prevail.
  • I don’t know if it’s an upset, but the Titans over the Raiders is somewhat of an upset and a game of the week-caliber match-up to me. I love watching Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota, and both are coming off disappointing injuries to end the 2016 season.
  • In Philly vs. Washington, I’m very invested in how Terrelle Pryor does. It’ll probably be like that for me all season. Despite the fact that I’m disappointed he left Cleveland, I am still pulling for him to thrive.
  • Colts vs. Rams -- A hard pass in terms of quarterback quality. Cardinals vs. Lions also does nothing for me, but for other reasons.
  • We’ll get to see the Seahawks vs. Packers game on FOX as pretty much a national broadcast. That’s always a fun match-up to see, namely because of Aaron Rodgers (who was my top fantasy pick at the end of round one).
  • I think San Francisco’s offense will be pretty productive this year, and I thought for a second about giving them an upset win. The issue is that I have no faith in their defense, and Carolina has to rebound after an awful 2016 season for their standard of capability.
  • I was all set to pick the Giants on SNF until I found out that Zeke would be back for the Cowboys.
  • On the first MNF game, Adrian Peterson going up against the Vikings will make for some storylines. I just think Minnesota is in a bad spot with Bradford as their starter.
  • The second MNF game is a toss-up. I went with the Broncos, but I feel like I’m relying too much on their Super Bowl season from 2015.

10. Predicting the Browns’ Week 1 Inactives: I predict the following players will be inactive for Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers:

Projected Inactives: QB Cody Kessler, WR Reggie Davis, OL Austin Reiter, DE Myles Garrett, DT Caleb Brantley, DT T.Y. McGill, and S Kai Nacua

The only one confirmed inactive is Garrett. After that, I feel pretty confident that Kessler and Davis will be inactive. With Hogan being named the backup quarterback, we won’t need three active quarterbacks on gameday. Davis is the sixth receiver and unlikely to see the field.

I chose to have Reiter be the inactive offensive lineman because I view him as a long-term backup center of J.C. Tretter goes down. If Tretter goes down during a game, the team could put Marcus Martin at center for that game, which is why Reiter can be inactive. I feel confident that at least one player between Brantley and McGill will be inactive, and decided to go with both of them. The last one came down to either Nacua, cornerback Mike Jordan, or linebacker James Burgess or B.J. Bello. Ultimately, I went with Nacua.