Our beloved Cleveland Browns take part in the Hall of Fame game tonight, squaring off against the New York Jets. It’s been 24 years since the Browns last took part in the Hall of Fame game, and that was when I was still in elementary school.
Over the past however many years, the Hall of Fame game has become a fun little moment in which I turn on the television to hear the announcers and see NFL teams in action for a series or two before continuing about my day. It signifies that “football is here, but I don’t really give a crap about this game.” That changes when your team is involved, though. It doesn’t mean I’ll be on the edge of my seat from beginning to finish, but here are five things we should look for in today’s preseason game from the Browns’ perspective.
1. The Quarterback Battle
This game is not for starters, but rather to evaluate younger talent or players who we don’t know much about. With Deshaun Watson and Josh Dobbs locked up as the top two quarterbacks, that means the third job — whether that be on the 53-man roster or the practice squad — is between Kellen Mond and rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
As reported earlier this week, Mond gets the start against the Jets, and Thompson-Robinson is likely to play in the second half. Cleveland added Mond after the preseason last year, and he stuck around on the 53-man roster all season. Late in the year, the team had even decided to keep him over Dobbs once Watson’s suspension was up. The team saw something they liked in him, and now fans will get the opportunity to see why he was a former third-round pick by the Vikings. This moment matters for him, because if he’s out-shined by the fast Thompson-Robinson, it could be the beginning of the end of his time in Cleveland.
2. Young Receiver Battles
With Marquise Goodwin being out indefinitely with blood clots, that opens the door for a receiver on the back-end of the roster to possibly make the team. We all know about Anthony Schwartz having the speed, but the team wouldn’t have needed to sign Goodwin in the first place if they had faith in Schwartz.
The two receivers to keep an eye on today are the ones who have been camp stars thus far: Daylen Baldwin and Cedric Tillman. Tillman’s roster security is pretty safe anyway since he was a third-round pick, but the better he plays, the more he could be an immediate contributor. Baldwin has been solid all-around. As Jared Mueller pointed out, Tillman could have a fun rookie vs. rookie match-up against Jarrick Bernard-Converse of the Jets.
3. Special Teams Evaluation
The Browns only have one kicker in camp, so Cade York will get normal reps today. The rest of the day belongs to the kickoff units and coverage units. Bubba Ventrone is the Browns’ new special teams coordinator, so that adds to the stakes — if you were previously a special teams guy, you still need to prove yourself again to see if Ventrone is impressed.
This category might not be so easy for Browns fans to “see” during the Hall of Fame game, but if you have a chance, try to pay attention to things like who the gunners are, who is first up to return kicks, etc. Ventrone talked more about special teams evaluation here.
4. Making an Impression Up Front
Cleveland invested heavily in the defensive line this offseason, but there is no chance you’re going to see Dalvin Tomlinson, Za’Darius Smith, and Ogbo Okoronkwo suit up against the Jets.
But Cleveland does have some young talent who they would love to evaluate today to see if they can be rotational contributors in the regular season. That includes the likes of DT Siaki Ika (third round pick) and DE Isaiah McGuire (fourth-round pick). Can they handle their own against the Jets’ backups? Will they be better than that? Worse? You can bet that some of the biggest Twitter film breakdowns after the game from Browns analysts will focus on the defensive line play of these guys.
5. The Feel-Good Joe Thomas Story
Even though the Browns have produced many Hall of Famers, I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing any of them in live action. Joe Thomas is the first Browns players in my era to have made the Hall of Fame, and he is the definition of greatness.
The consecutive snaps streak that he had may never be matched. He quickly turned his post-playing career into a football analyst, and he recently did an exclusive interview with DBN’s Barry Shuck that I encourage you to check out. Thomas will officially be inducted into the Hall of Fame tonight, and you can bet that he’ll be featured in the broadcast heavily.