Welcome to Week 1 of the NFL! This weekly column includes a lot of loose ends leading up to Sunday’s game.
Pokorny’s 10 Things to Watch in Week 1 - Browns and the NFL
1. What’s Happening With the Weather? We are hearing disastrous reports for the weather at kickoff on Sunday for Steelers vs. Browns. Weather.com is showing a certainty of rain all day, with winds around 20 MPH. But you also know those winds are going to be much stronger near the lake. A flash flood watch has been issued, with heavy rains beginning Saturday night and continuing into Sunday. Because the ground will be saturated, that could lead to flooding by Sunday.
A Flash Flood Watch has been issued for most of northern Ohio and northwest Pennsylvania into Monday. Rain will continue over the weekend, with the heaviest rain expected late tonight and Sunday. Many area rivers will experience flooding Sunday into early next week. #clewx pic.twitter.com/DO7QayUQgH— NWS Cleveland (@NWSCLE) September 8, 2018
A lot of fans have been asking whether the game could be cancelled. Unless there is lightning, though, the game won’t be cancelled or postponed due to rain and wind. Here is some more insight that Jeff Tanchak of Cleveland 19 News offered, which sounds pretty gloomy. If you are traveling to the game, be safe, and do your best to prepare for the weather.
As far as gameplans go, one would figure that the running game will be a priority on both sides, as well as ball security.
2. No Logo at Midfield & Script End Zone: On Friday, Jon Rudder of WEWS snapped a shot of FirstEnergy Stadium from a helicopter, which gives us a peek at how the field will look for Sunday.
Field is looking great @BrownsGrounds!— Jon Rudder (@JonRudder) September 7, 2018
No midfield logo again this year? pic.twitter.com/WlMBG9xXEE
Two years ago, the team did away with having the end zones painted orange with brown lettering. Instead, they went with grass end zones and orange cursive lettering of the word “Browns.” Unless something changes, this year, that script will be plain white. Also, Rudder asked head groundskeeper Chris Powell if the team would be going without a midfield logo again. Powell responded that there will not be a midfield logo, which has me desperately asking, “why?” for the second year in a row. Here is another shot of the field:
We’re 28 hours from kickoff, but @nflnetwork is here, ready to talk #Steelers #Browns. Tune in to @gmfb - we’re on! pic.twitter.com/MFG5UNERxL— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) September 8, 2018
3. Browns’ Waiver Claims Were in High Demand: The Browns have 10 defensive linemen on their team now, but 4 of them did not spend any time with the team in training camp. Cleveland had the advantage of the top waiver claim, but just how popular were the players they claimed?
- The Browns traded for DL Deveroe Lawrence from the Saints. Why trade for him if Cleveland had first dibs on the waiver wire? The presumption would be that New Orleans had at least one other offer for him — probably a conditional 7th round pick — while Cleveland offered a non-conditional 7th round pick.
- DL Carl Davis had the most waiver claims placed on him from initial cuts. Four teams placed a claim — the Browns, Redskins, Bengals, and Chargers.
- DL Anthony Zettel also had four claims placed on him after he was cut: the Browns, Packers, Vikings, and Chargers.
- LB Tanner Vallejo had three waiver claims placed on him. The other teams were the Dolphins and Cardinals.
The only other player not mentioned was Ifeadi Odenigbo from the front seven. Many people were sad to see Jamie Meder, Carl Nassib, and Nate Orchard leave the team because of the backstories associated with them. If you to take emotion out of it, though, how often did you ever look at the three of them and think, “they play a very key role on this football team?”
For me, is wasn’t that often. They did their job, but the Browns added talent who they feel have a little more upside. We’ll see how quickly some of them can contribute right away. Davis figures to be the most likely player to see immediate reps on the inside, and I’d venture to guess that Zettel or Lawrence will see a good amount of work on the edge.
4. New Browns All Access Show Debuts Sunday: The Browns’ local affiliate is WEWS, and this year, they are adding a new show to their pre-game programming called “Browns All Access.” The show will air at 10:30 AM ET, lasting a half hour. The show will be hosted by Bernie Kosar and Nathan Zegura, and will feature Browns news, film breakdowns, and segments with head coach Hue Jackson. Below, you can see a snippet of where Jackson breaks down the work of DE Myles Garrett this preseason. Browns Countdown will also air from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM on WEWS.
As far as other things to pump fans up go, the team is pushing the “Hardland of America” theme for their fans and players:
5. Earning Your Stripes: I get that a lot of people poked fun at the whole “earn your stripes” thing, but we aren’t really making a big deal out of the fact that WR Josh Gordon, OL Earl Watford, and all of the waiver acquisitions weren’t here to “earn their stripes,” are we? Speaking of the stripes, I’ve found that I liked both versions of the helmet now. I loved them all preseason without the stripe, and now that the stripes are back on, I still dig them:
Josh Gordon has earned his stripes, along with 52 other guys #Browns pic.twitter.com/k053hI75HM— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) September 3, 2018
What shouldn’t be happening is me looking at the practice uniforms and thinking, “those kind of look funner and cleaner than our gameday uniforms.” Speaking of which, the team hasn’t unveiled what their uniforms will be in Week 1, but here’s to hoping that there is much less of the white jersey-brown pants combination. One more thing tying into the stripes thing — this will be Gordon’s first Week 1 action since the 2012 season, a full six years ago! Hue Jackson has said he won’t start, but we know he will absolutely be seeing the majority of snaps still. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley can’t wait:
“I hope [Gordon] is involved a lot. He obviously is a big time talent. As I told him, ‘We have been waiting on you.’ It is time. He worked very hard when he was not here. He is very clear from a mental standpoint. He has worked hard to get himself physically ready to go. He definitely can help us. This is one of those five-star matchups. Our best players have to play better than their best players for us to have a chance to come out on top, and he is one of our best players. I would expect him to be involved.”
Haley also said that he intentionally did not watch Hard Knocks, because he did not want to be affected from how he is naturally. “I really try to every day go out there and be me, coach hard and put everything I have into trying to get our team into a position to succeed – our offense, specifically,” said Haley.
6. My Percentage Projections: Every year when I do my training camp positional previews, I assign percentages to each of the 90 players on the roster at the time with their “odds” of making the 53-man roster. Let’s go through and see what my percentages were on a few key players:
- WR Corey Coleman - 98%, but got traded (I noted the team had tried to trade him earlier in the offseason)
- OT Shon Coleman - 95%, but got cut (I noted that I did not think he would win the LT job)
- DT Jamie Meder - 90%, but got cut
- DT Caleb Brantley - 90%, but got cut
- WR Jeff Janis - 80%, but got cut
- FB Danny Vitale - 75%, but got cut
- DE Carl Nassib - 50%, and got cut
- DE Nate Orchard - 40%, and got cut
- WR Rashard Higgins - 40%, but made the team
- CB Denzel Rice - 20%, but made the team
- WR Derrick Willies - <5%, but made the team
Also, every offseason, I do an article that discusses 5 players who are most likely to be roster casualties, either for cap or other reasons. This year, my article included CB Jamar Taylor, WR Corey Coleman, DE Nate Orchard or DE Carl Nassib, QB Cody Kessler, and WR Ricardo Louis. OK, guys — where is my props? The only player still affiliated with the club is Louis, who is on injured reserve with a season-ending neck injury.
7. The Last-Minute Offensive Line Shuffling: Throughout the week, I kept on telling people that Hue Jackson’s vagueness about the state of the offensive line made no sense. I thought he was trying to gain some silly competitive advantage over the Steelers by not just confirming that Joel Bitonio was the starting left tackle. But there the news came on Friday — Bitonio is moving back to left guard, Desmond Harrison is the starting left tackle, and Austin Corbett is going to the bench.
It’s a really tough situation to call as a fan. It’s not that I am pissed off or anything about who is starting. And ultimately, no matter how much the handling of the offensive line may have been screwed up until this point, you want to get it right. However, the way in which we got here is less-than-ideal. Harrison has only had a little practice time with the starting unit, and no actual game experience.
Also, if there is one “miss” that Hard Knocks had, it was the feel-good story of a player who overcame their past to defy the odds, but nothing was featured on Harrison this camp. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams talked about how a talent like DE Myles Garrett helps prepare a young guy like Harrison:
“[Harrison] has come a long way. The big thing about those guys is – I do not want to put words into their mouths – I think they feel like they are getting a lot of work every day having to play against Myles. Myles helps train them. Myles can do some things in practice that other guys can’t do that you would be surprised about in a game. There are no surprises now. You see it in practice. Coaches get a chance to correct and coaches get a chance to help because of some of the things he can do.”
8. Browns’ 2018 Team Captains: The Browns’ captains this year include:
Offense: QB Tyrod Taylor & LG Joel Bitonio
Defense: DE Myles Garrett & OLB Christian Kirksey
Special Teams: P Britton Colquitt
Our 2018 captains pic.twitter.com/Wjd27FGlT6— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 5, 2018
The captains are voted on by teammates. Here is what head coach Hue Jackson thought about those selections:
“I think those are the guys that they see who demonstrate leadership qualities on and off the field. I let the players make that choice, and those are the guys that they picked. A really interesting dynamic of all of the guys that were picked. Britton, this is his second year [as captain]. There is something that he does in the locker room that I think the guys really appreciate. I am not surprised at Kirko. I am not surprised at Joel. I am not surprised at Tyrod. I am not surprised at Myles because I think that he is becoming that type of player. I think the more vocal he becomes, the better we will become. That is just going to be the challenge for him.”
9. NFL Week 1 Picks: Here are my Week 1 picks, along with a few notes.
- There are a few quarterback situations I don’t trust, ruling those teams out completely: Nathan Peterman for Buffalo, Ryan Fitzpatrick for Tampa Bay, and Sam Darnold for New York.
- I’m curious how RB Saquon Barkley will perform, but I still expect the Jaguars’ defense to be lights out. Whether QB Blake Bortles can do enough will always be up-for-grabs, but I still like Jacksonville.
- Two games I’m really intrigued by are San Francisco vs. Minnesota, and then Los Angeles vs. Oakland. Jimmy Garoppolo led the 49ers to 5-0 last year, and Kyle Shanahan knows how to just make things work on offense. But the Vikings were basically the best of the NFC a year ago, and now have Kirk Cousins under center. For the West Coast game, I just want to see how embarrassing the Raiders play under Jon Gruden, or if he actually has some tricks up his sleeve that make people go, “whoa!”
- The Texans vs. Patriots being a Week 1 shootout would be an absolute treat.
- A tough game to pick is Cincinnati vs. Indianapolis. I’m not high on the Bengals, but I feel like I’m being dumb by picking QB Andrew Luck to win in his first game in 20 months.
- I don’t know what to make of Seattle or Denver. The Seahawks aren’t seen as a powerhouse any more defensively, but I think people are overrating the Broncos a little bit.
- The Chiefs are still intriguing to me, but I haven’t bought in to Pat Mahomes working right away in that offense. I’m not saying I won’t, but I need to see it first.
- Sunday Night Football is a fun one to start the year; it’s always fun to see Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. How has Mitchell Trubisky improved in year two?
10. Predicting the Browns’ Week 1 Inactives: I predict the following players will be inactive for Sunday’s game against the Steelers:
Projected Inactives: QB Drew Stanton, WR Damion Ratley, DE Devaroe Lawrence, DE Ifeadi Odenigbo, LB James Burgess, CB E.J. Gaines, and CB Tavierre Thomas.
As a reminder, there need to be seven inactives each week. Gaines and Burgess are a given, leaving us with five more. Stanton won’t be essential on gameday, bringing us to four. Receivers won’t be utilized as much with the winds, so I think WR Derrick Willies wins favor as a gunner over Damion Ratley. The team won’t have all four of their new defensive linemen active, so I picked Lawrence and Odenigbo to be down, with the more experienced Carl Davis and Anthony Zettel playing. Lastly, Thomas is projected to be inactive, as CB Denzel Rice will play a gunner role.