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…
From the starters:
1) Cleveland’s offensive line handled the Rams. Especially in pass protection. Brandon Weeden had all kinds of time and took advantage of it to the tune of 10 for 13 passing for 112 yards and a touchdown. The Lions defensive line is no joke. I’ll be watching the battle up front. Is Jason Pinkston back to form yet? Can they be more effective opening holes for running backs this week?
The Lions will start rookie Ezekiel Ansah, who was selected right before Cleveland took Barkevious Mingo. Ansah had a very good first preseason game and will be a challenge for Mitchell Schwartz.
Since the Browns and Lions meet in the regular season, they certainly won’t be tipping much of the playbook. Although, they don’t meet until week six, so it isn’t quite like the Philadelphia situation last year. While we’re on the topic, can the NFL stop scheduling preseason games against that meet in the regular season? How hard could that really be?
2) Trent Richardson. I want to see at least two quality series from him. Somewhere around eight carries would be fine. Let’s see him demonstrate a little explosiveness. There’s no reason to pound him up the middle on a second and one. Give him those two series to get his feet wet and then go ahead and get him out of there. Next week maybe more of the same. Perhaps the whole first quarter next week, depending on how things go.
I also want to pay attention to Chris Ogbonnaya. Can he be a legitimate fullback? I admit the temptation to use him there is great. Can you imagine a fullback that really can catch passes out of the backfield or get an occasional carry? It’s been a while since Cleveland has had one of those. But if he can’t do the job as a lead blocker or picking up the blitz let’s just end the experiment in the preseason.
3) The cornerback competition. It seems that Buster Skrine has the edge on Chris Owens at the moment, but we haven’t really gotten a good look at Owens against other competition. Thursday should be his night to get reps. I know the coaching staff has been impressed with Buster’s work this offseason, but I can’t help but be a little nervous seeing his name at the top of the depth chart. I hope I’m proved wrong.
Meanwhile, I want to see Joe Haden cover Calvin Johnson. Johnson is in the prime of his career, and one of the top three receivers in the game. If Haden wants to step up and be considered a top five cornerback as he has said, this is the type of match-up where he has to show something.
4) Can Brandon Bogotay handle the pressure? The more I think about Rob Chudzinski’s decision to only use Bogotay Thursday, the more I like it. Look, Shayne Graham has kicked in this stadium before. Honestly, I don’t know what more Graham has to prove to the Browns. From my perspective, this competition is all about whether Bogotay is a legitimate NFL kicker. I think that is all he has to prove to win this job. I think Graham is there in case he can’t.
5) Can the Browns get to Matt Stafford? Cleveland was able to get pressure on Sam Bradford last week, but he was still efficient throwing the ball. Stafford likes to sit in the pocket and throw the deep pass. It’s time to release the hounds. Whether it’s Kruger, Sheard, Mingo or even Craig Robertson, I want to see Stafford on his back.
From the reserves:
1) So these are basically depth chart battles and roster decisions that we need to see play out. The first is the wide receiver position. Nobody from the bottom half of the depth chart did much in last week’s game to move up in my opinion. I still question whether Jordan Norwood and Josh Cooper are both necessary on this team. Benjamin and Bess are going to get the majority of the slot receiver reps. Why carry both Norwood and Cooper? Norwood has been slowed a little by injuries the last couple of weeks, but I see his situation much the same as the Bogotay/Graham one. Cooper to me has to prove that he can be as versatile as Norwood and can contribute on special teams.
2) Who is the odd man out on the defensive line? I believe that the Browns are going to end up cutting a defensive lineman that will get picked up pretty quickly. It’s simply a numbers game. Right now the guy I am wondering about is Hall Davis. Desmond Bryant, Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, John Hughes, Billy Winn and Brian Sanford are locks. Kitchen is a bit of a question because I don’t know about him on the outside in this defense. Armonty Bryant was drafted by this group. Traditionally, that would give him as edge in staying on the roster. That means Davis and Jean-Baptiste could be looking for other teams. Davis will find one. I don’t think he’ll make it to the Browns practice squad. Armonty Bryant might not either.
3) Kick returner. I don’t think the Browns are even remotely settled here. Dion Lewis is the first one on the depth chart, but that could change in a heartbeat I think. Johnson Bademosi is listed second, but the one who intrigues me is Buster Skrine. He is lighting fast.
4) Will Leon McFadden play? The Browns spent two draft picks on the secondary, McFadden who they took in the third round and Jamoris Slaughter taken in the sixth. (I must add, after trading out of picks in the fourth and fifth rounds.) The depth in the secondary is scary. Bademosi and Gipson are battling for a starting job. Neither seemed ready to be a regular starter at the end of last season. I hope this won’t end badly for the Browns.
5) Finally, let us see a lot of Mingo. Into the third quarter even.