The preseason continues tonight for the Cleveland Browns. Can they build on last week’s performance? These are the things I’ll be watching for…
It seems like the Browns haven’t played in a long time doesn’t it? The Lions game was only last Thursday, but so much has happened to the team since they took the field for that one. There has been a plethora of injury reports, especially about rookie Barkevious Mingo’s bruised lung, though nobody is quite sure when he will be ready for action. (The good news there is that the doctors let him work out on the bike during practice the other day.)
There has also been a trade, which of course was then voided and Brian Sanford returned to the team. The Browns also waived a couple of players, even though the team doesn’t have to have the roster down to 75 until Tuesday. Brandon Weeden was named the starting quarterback, ending that speculation. Paling in comparison to that announcement, Tashaun Gipson was named the starting free safety and Spencer Lanning has apparently won the punting position. Of course there was also the Greg Little and Josh Gordon speeding ticket news.
Now that the third preseason game is almost upon us, what will I be watching for from the team?
From the starters:
1) Coach Chudzinski said that the starting unit (or most of them) will see action into the third quarter. I would be surprised if that group included Trent Richardson. Actually, I’d be stunned. The big question will be if the starting units can match their earlier performances?
In both preseason games so far, the starting group has dominated their opponents. They scored quickly and held the other team from scoring touchdowns. The first team defense has forced four three-and-out drives in just a shade over two quarters of football. That’s outstanding. The first team offense has scored on five of it’s six drives, including three touchdowns and two field goals. Browns fans haven’t sniffed that kind of efficiency in a very long time, preseason or not.
Expecting the team to dominate for a third straight game is unrealistic. Expecting them to be right with the Colts at halftime or whenever the team pulls the starters sounds like the right call.
2) Will T.J. Ward and others play? Rob Chudzinski appears to have a traditional preseason strategy, which means that the starting units will most likely not play in the fourth game, or play just a series at best. Some players have yet to see the field in preseason. Safety T.J. Ward is one of those. He has been back at practice since before the last game. Will the coaching staff let him test his legs against the Colts? Does he need some game action to be ready for the Dolphins in week one?
David Nelson is another player that hasn’t seen a snap in the preseason. He recently started practicing again in 11-on-11 drills. Will he get any snaps in the game? Given the suspension to Josh Gordon, if Nelson is a part of the gameplan the first two weeks, you would think the coaching staff would want him to get his feet wet in this one. He is a guy that could easily play in the fourth game, but the odds of Weeden playing more than a series in that game is pretty slim.
3) Will the defense show anything more? Much has been said this preseason about the flavor of defenses being vanilla. That may be true, but there are also times in preseason games when coaches want to give a different look just to make other teams take notice or have to game plan for. I suspect we may see something of that nature from the defense this week. Ray Horton might just show some kind of package or blitz scheme just to make the Dolphins have to work on it. Of course, it could always be the offense…
4) Most importantly, the Browns need to come out of this game healthy. While the win was a lot of fun last week, the air was just completely sucked out of the locker room because of all the injuries. It became the story instead of the progress that the team was making.
Which makes Rob Chudzinski’s job hard. How long do you leave your starters in? How many carries do you give Trent Richardson? He has to balance getting the team ready to play with potentially limiting their exposure to injury in “meaningless” preseason games.
5) There aren’t many position battles left, but the right guard spot is one of them. This week Oniel Cousins starts at right guard. He certainly has more experience than the rookie Garrett Gilkey, but is he really the better option? Saturday’s game should give us some indication. The Browns will be watching both players hard to see who gets the nod, or if they need to pursue another option.
From the reserves:
The reserves won’t play nearly as much in this game, which makes every snap that much more important. If you are fighting for a spot on the roster, you want as many good plays as possible on film. Even if you don’t make the Browns roster, you hope that someone else may need your services.
For the first time in a long time, the Browns may be making a few cuts that interest other teams. The defensive line is very deep, and they won’t be able to keep all of these guys. Nicolas Jean-Baptiste is a player that fits that mold. So are Brian Sanford and even Hall Davis.
The receiving group is still a bit of a jumbled mess behind the established players. I still think that Jordan Norwood and Josh Cooper are fighting for the same roster spot. Norwood hasn’t been able to play lately. Josh Cooper could take a step ahead with a good showing on the road.
Will anyone else take a step up in the eyes of the coaches? Does Tank Carder need to show something on special teams? Is Josh Aubrey’s spot secure?
For guys at the end of the roster, every play counts. Even in “meaningless” preseason games.
(Photo: Candice Vlcek/WFNY)