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5 things to watch in the Browns’ preseason finale

The kicking job, return man spot, backup receivers, and more are among five things to watch in Thursday’s preseason finale for Cleveland.

Cleveland Browns v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Cleveland’s final game of the preseason is Thursday, and you can bet that the starters will not see any reps. Some positions on the back-end of the depth chart are still to be determined, though, so let’s see five things to look at heading into the preseason finale against the Lions.

1. The Kicker Situation

According to Steve Doerschuk of the Canton Repository, the Browns have already decided that Austin Seibert has won the kicking job over Greg Joseph:

If what he says is true, then Greg Joseph would be getting all of the kicks in the preseason finale. From a rep standpoint, it’s not out-of-the-ordinary, because Seibert got all the reps in the third preseason game, so now it’s Joseph’s turn. If Seibert will be the opening day guy, though, shouldn’t he get as many live game reps as possible? Or are they trying to “leave him on a good note” after going 4-of-4 last week?

Some have wondered if Joseph could be showcased for a trade. “What are the odds of that?” you might say. Many teams in the league need a kicker, and Joseph was our kicker most of last season. If he has a decent final preseason game, we could see GM John Dorsey look for a “waiver for waiver trade scenario.” In other words, if the Browns will waive Joseph, but another team wants him, Dorsey might ask them, “who are you guys going to waive when narrowing it down to 53 players?” If there is a name that “pops out” to him, then he essentially gets first dibs on “claiming” that player, via a trade.

Would that all work out as I described it? Probably not — but it offers some possible reasons to the method behind the madness.

2. Backup Wide Receiver

The Browns’ top four receivers heading into camp were Odell Beckham Jr, Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, and Antonio Callaway. It was assumed that someone would easily claim that fifth job — i.e. a Derrick Willies, Jaelen Strong, or one of the undrafted rookies. Instead, we’re now nearing the end of camp, and things haven’t quite gone as planned.

  • Beckham, Landry, and Higgins are unquestionably the top three receivers.
  • Callaway will serve a four-game suspension to begin the year, so suddenly the team needs to figure out their No. 4 and No. 5 receivers.
  • Strong, who was having a pretty decent-looking camp, has already been waived.
  • The remaining receivers on the Browns include: Dorian Baker, Ishmael Hyman, Braxton Miller, Damion Ratley, Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi, and Derrick Willies. I like Willies, and think he will take one of those two spots. Miller is intriguing, but has only been here a short time. The word on Twitter is that the coaching staff is very high on Ratley, who will return from injury to play against the Lions.

3. Backup Offensive Line

For all the glory the Browns took on in acquiring WR Odell Beckham Jr. and DE Olivier Vernon from the Giants, they also had to give up a Pro Bowl caliber right guard in Kevin Zeitler. The hope was that someone would rise to the occasion to be the new starting right guard, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Veteran Eric Kush will likely be the starter in Week 1, and he is a player who I could actually see playing in the preseason finale, just to score some additional reps.

Austin Corbett, the No. 33 overall pick last year, didn’t do enough to fit in to the starting role. Is he suddenly going to improve mid-season to become the starter? That doesn’t seem likely. Drew Forbes, on the other hand, has been a bit of a swiss army knife throughout camp. Kush is the starter for now, but the offensive coaching staff will no doubt be looking at the linemen reps carefully to determine their best “Plan B” — not just at right guard, but at every position.

Some fans have pondered whether Corbett might be on the roster bubble, period. The answer to that should be “no” — Cleveland will still hang on to him and hope he develops into the player Dorsey thought he would be. After all, it’s not like the rest of the backup line is filled with a surplus of talent, so what incentive is there to ditch Corbett just yet?

4. Defensive Depth Rising to the Occasion

One of the big things I was looking for this preseason was for a backup defensive tackle to show something redeemable in wanting them to see rotational reps with Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson. After being acquired and basically red-shirtted at the end of last preseason, Devaroe Lawrence is stepping up to be that guy.

Lawrence’s rise puts into question whether guys like Brian Price, Daniel Ekuale, Carl Davis, or Trevon Coley will be needed. Coley has been here for several seasons, but seems to be dropping off the radar, and I could see the team using Chris Smith on the interior if needed, along with a player they find on waivers. Nonetheless, these guys will still be fighting hard for a roster spot against Detroit.

5. Return Game Battle

What should the Browns do with WR Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi? He took his first punt of the preseason for a touchdown, and has looked like a solid punt returner since then catching balls in traffic and grinding out what he can. Do we want the days of a “Jim Leonhard” — i.e. a “punt catcher” who plays it safe, or does GM John Dorsey feel any level of intrigue at saying, “screw it, let’s roll the dice with his explosiveness.”

It’s tough because returners are usually expected to play multiple roles — i.e. a backup receiver, or a gunner on special teams. Sheehy-Guiseppi wouldn’t be doing that; he would exclusively be a returner, and maybe even just the punt returner (not kickoffs). Is it worth it to use a 53-man roster spot on him for that? What about a gameday active spot, which there are only 46 spots for? Or, you could have RB D’Ernest Johnson do it, as he will probably be the third running back for the first 8 game of the season. The was also talk awhile back about WR Odell Beckham Jr. doing punts once the regular season began.

Either way, it’s a story I’ll be following. Whoever is back to receive the first punt on Thursday will be a telling sign. If it’s Johnson, then Sheehy-Guiseppi would be fighting for a practice squad spot only.

What are you looking for in the preseason finale, Browns fans?