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Browns vs. Giants 2018, NFL Preseason Week 1: Position Battles to Watch

Who will step up at receiver with a lot of players’ statuses up-in-the-air? That is one of five things to watch tonight during the Browns’ first preseason game.

Erik Drost on Flickr

The Cleveland Browns take on the New York Giants on Thursday for their first game of the preseason, and for once, we don’t have to worry about who the No. 1 quarterback will be to start the regular season! That will allow us to turn our attention to other position battles. 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:
FB Danny Vitale (calf)
TE Seth DeValve (quad)
OL Kevin Zeitler (calf)
OL Desmond Harrison (toe-PUP)

On defense, the following players are not expected to play:
DL Trevon Coley (ankle)
DL Daniel Ekuale (calf)
LB Justin Currie (concussion)

Five Things to Look For

1. Who Will Step Up at Receiver? A few months ago, the Browns’ receiver depth seemed to be shaping up pretty well with Jarvis Landry, Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, and Antonio Callaway. Flashforward to today, and Landry is the only player we are certain about.

It is still entirely possible (and in my opinion, likely) that Gordon and Callaway will both see significant action this season as part of the team’s top three receivers. Gordon isn’t here right now, though, and although Callaway made the trip to New York, it is uncertain whether the team will play him tonight. Personally, I think Callaway should play despite last Sunday’s issue. Here are the other candidates with a shot to make an impression, though:

  • Rashard Higgins: Besides Landry, the third-year receiver has made the most noise in camp, although much of that production has come with Baker Mayfield under center against second-string defenses. Will the chemistry be there with Tyrod Taylor and against first-teamers?
  • Jeff Janis: Packers fans often felt that Janis, a 6-3 speedster, was underrated and should have received more playing time.
  • C.J. Board: In terms of receivers at the back end of the depth chart, Board has made the most noise, and a few preseason catches can boost one’s stock quickly.

The other receivers on the roster include Damion Ratley, Da’Mari Scott, Derrick Willies, and Evan Berry.

2. Joel Bitonio at Left Tackle: The switch to left tackle for Joel Bitonio has been seamless in practice so far, even going up against Myles Garrett. It’s hard to imagine Hue Jackson changing his mind at this point; it only makes sense for Austin Corbett to start as well, and the only way that is probably happening this year is if he is at left guard.

Nonetheless, it will be great to evaluate just how sharp Bitonio plays the left tackle position. Will he look like an immediate stud? Will there be a few technical or schematic things that become apparent he needs to work on through the rest of training camp? Also, I expect Greg Robinson to get the reps as the second-team left tackle over Shon Coleman, who I think will be back at right tackle. Cleveland still needs to figure out their best fallback plan at left tackle, just in case something with Bitonio doesn’t work out there.

3. The Linebacker Rotation: After the Browns traded WR Corey Coleman, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network noted that the Browns might not be done yet when it comes to trading a big-name player. The first name that pops into my head with that is Jamie Collins, with honorable mentions to Carl Nassib and Shon Coleman.

Personally, I think Cleveland should definitely keep Collins and stay four-strong at the linebacker rotation, with Mychal Kendricks and Genard Avery being key rotational pieces. One of the things I want to see tonight is whether the Browns show any hint of not playing some of their linebackers 100% of the time. I know it’s only the preseason, but if Christian Kirksey and/or Joe Schobert are subbed out while the first-team defenses are still on the field, that will only be a positive sign to me. The Browns have already acknowledged this offseason the thought of keeping players fresher, and tonight might be the start of that.

4. Utilization of Safeties and Cornerbacks: The strong safety position is the most up-in-the-air one in terms of playing time. I firmly believe that Gregg Williams wants to utilize both Derrick Kindred and Jabrill Peppers. Will they be on the field at the same time? Only one at a time? Who sees more reps — Kindred or Peppers? And how do their roles differ? We may only get to see a quarter of play from them, but I’ll definitely be going back to review how they were each utilized.

Sticking with the defensive backs, the second cornerback spot, opposite rookie Denzel Ward, remains up-for-grabs. It was originally thought to be a competition between T.J. Carrie and E.J. Gaines, but camp has gone like this: Carrie started and kept getting beat by the now-departed Corey Coleman, Gaines hasn’t made any headlines, and Terrance Mitchell came out of no where to replace Carrie in the starting lineup. There is still a long way to go before Week 1, though, so every preseason game counts for Mitchell, Carrie, and Gaines.

5. Stopping Saquon Barkley: For awhile, many Browns fans had their hearts set on drafting RB Saquon Barkley. Instead, he went No. 2 overall to the New York Giants, giving Pat Shurmur an exciting weapon to work with, as you can see in the highlights below.

Barkley will no doubt be featured with the Giants’ first-team offense this week, and I want to see how well Larry Ogunjobi on the inside and Emmanuel Ogbah on the outside combine to slow his debut. The Giants’ offensive line got a little boost this offseason with the signing of Nate Solder at left tackle and the drafting of left guard Will Hernandez at No. 24 overall.

Game Thread

Our game thread on Dawgs By Nature will go live at 6:00 PM ET on Thursday, which is an hour before kickoff. Be sure to check in for the first preseason game of the year!