For the first time since 2019, the Cleveland Browns will play a preseason game tonight! I’m in the middle of working on getting new Internet service, but I wanted to make sure I still got seven quick hitter notes in leading up to tonight’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. You can also check out Thomas Moore’s preview here.
1. Keep the Preseason: I am glad the preseason has been cut to three games, and I don’t think it should ever be eliminated. It’s less about getting a team’s top tier starters in sync, and more about me wanting to evaluate the younger players and get them some reps. This is the bubble players’ time to shine, and I think more an more teams are starting to handle it that way.
2. Browns’ Offense: On offense, I expect to see the following starting lineup:
QB Case Keenum
RB D’Ernest Johnson
WR KhaDarel Hodge
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones
TE Harrison Bryant
LT James Hudson III
LG Michael Dunn
C Nick Harris
RG Blake Hance
RT Chris Hubbard
The debatable spots there are the receivers, considering how well of a camp Peoples-Jones has had. However, because he’s still a second-year player, I think the club would like him to get more experience working against other defenders so that he can play a bigger role in the offense this year.
On the offensive line, Hudson at left tackle is something is the spot I’ll be most interested in. It’s kind of crazy that this is our second-string offensive line. Granted, I’m not at all comparing it to a first-string offensive line, but based on draft status and some of their previous play, this is a group that has the potential to play pretty well together for a preseason game.
3. Browns’ Defense: On defense, I expect to see the following starting lineup:
DE Porter Gustin
DT Jordan Elliott
DT Sheldon Day
DE Curtis Weaver
WILL Mack Wilson
MIKE Jacob Phillips
SAM Sione Takitaki
CB Greg Newsome II
S Jovante Moffatt
S Richard LeCounte III
CB Greedy Williams
The defense is where things get a lot more uncertain in terms of who will start. I would personally give some reps to veteran DT Andrew Billings since he’s been out for over a year, but I’m thinking they’ll start with Elliott and Day instead. At defensive end, we may also see Cameron Malveaux.
At linebacker, does Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah start right out of the gate? I have Mack Wilson starting instead; even though he’s not a rookie or second-year player, he’s the type of player who I want to see receive more reps after a down 2020 campaign (but impressive 2021 camp).
Cleveland is hurt injury-wise at safety right now, with Ronnie Harrison, Sheldrick Redwine, and Grant Delpit all sidelined. I doubt that John Johnson III would play, so that leaves Cleveland digging deep down the depth chart there.
4. Special Teams Competition: Obviously, players at punt return, kick return, gunner, coverage units, etc. will be competing for a job. But the story here is the kicker competition between Cody Parkey and Chase McLaughlin. You can never predict how many kicks, if any, a team will have in a game, let only distributing the reps over two kickers. But if they get their shot, they better not miss.
5. Other Players to Watch: Here are some other players I’m keeping an eye on, either as bubble players or to see to what extent they can contribute as role players in 2021:
- RB Demetric Felton - Will he line up at running back? Wide receiver? Or both? Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are the top two backs clearly, and D’Ernest Johnson is a solid No. 3. Can Felton truly show off his versatility?
- WR JoJo Natson - It’s hard to make the roster solely as a return man, so Natson needs to show that his elusiveness on special teams makes him worth it.
- DT Tommy Togiai - A fourth round pick from Ohio State, Togiai has had a nice camp and Cleveland’s rotation at defensive tackle is still very much too be determined.
- CB A.J. Green - Although the Browns appear very deep at cornerback (Denzel Ward, Greg Newsome, Greedy Williams, Troy Hill), Green was the talk of last year’s camp as an undrafted rookie, yet we really never got to see him as fans. This is his chance to shine.
6. What About the Jaguars? As a general NFL fan, this will also be fun for me to get a look at QB Trevor Lawrence on the Jaguars, the No. 1 overall pick of the draft. I don’t know how much mobility we’ll see out of him, but if he tries running as often as he did in college, I think he’ll be in for a rude awakening for how easy defenders are able to track him down.
I don’t even know if we’ll see Tim Tebow play tight end, but that would be pretty entertaining to see too, even for a bit. It’s also Urban Meyer’s first game as an NFL coach, which will be very weird to get used to.
7. What About Kyle Lauletta? It’s pretty amusing how many third- and fourth-string quarterbacks have actually been plucked off the Browns’ practice squad (or via trade) the past couple of years to start for other teams in the regular season. We could see a lot of action from Kyle Lauletta today, the Browns’ third-string quarterback.
Not only is it an important role for Cleveland, in the event Baker Mayfield or Case Keenum go down in the regular season, but he’s auditioning to show himself off. Even though Kevin Stefanski won’t be calling plays this week, his system seems to benefit quarterbacks and offensive efficiency, so let’s see what he has to offer.
Stay Tuned to DBN: We’ll have game threads for each half of action tonight, as well as a post-game thread and analysis to follow in the coming days. We’ll do our first 53-man roster projection in the coming week as well.