Preview of Preseason Game #2 – Lions @ Browns
Alas, the Browns and Lions renew their storied preseason rivalry known as “the Great Lakes Classic” (or the GLC). These two franchises have met each preseason over the past eleven years, with the winner garnering an extremely heavy trophy of a barge. Being the second game of the exhibition campaign, the starters will play a bit more than last week – leading to a better representation of the regular season and possible, future expectations. The final home game before the regular season opener is the next opportunity for the Browns to work on a few things and determine how best to fill out their roster.
Offense: Last week, Brandon Weeden was able to hit open targets against a base defense. He will see something similar again, except instead of slants, quick outs, and dump offs, I hope the signal caller employs a few posts, drags, or fades. Granted, I do not anticipate these longer routes to be run regularly, but facing an opposing defense would be a good test to see if Weeden’s accuracy has gotten better from 2012. Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer’s playing time will decrease from the last outing; one could surge ahead in the backup role with exceptional play (Hoyer has intrigued me to this point). Fortunately, both have avoided a poor mistake or turnover – let’s hope that continues.
Will this be the first preseason contest for Trent Richardson? I am in the camp that supports him getting a few repetitions on the field – Dion Lewis was the starting back against the Rams but did not have multiple carries between the tackles (where more contact is made). I would like both a few runs and receptions out of the backfield from the University of Alabama product. My expectations for Lewis were met last week; I feel confident in the rusher during the regular season. If Montario Hardesty is healthy enough to play, I would prefer he get the bulk of touches during the contest. The coaching staff needs to figure out what to do with the former second-round pick, and he is running out of opportunities (he is on the outside looking in, in my opinion).
It’s rather safe to assume that Travis Benjamin is more than dependable in the return game – he must still make a few strides to replicate that statement as a wide receiver, though. The athlete may not be asked to run every single pattern, but as long as he runs them crisply and is in the right spot, then he can become a permanent fixture for the offense going forward. The team converted their third downs well last game (nine of sixteen), and this trend needs to continue. Finding Davone Bess on the field should be paramount, in addition to seeking out other reliable targets to move the chains. The health of David Nelson and his inactivity is providing an opening for a wide out to seize; I feel Josh Cooper is currently in the lead, but either Jordan Norwood or someone else could make a few big plays against the Lions and vault himself into favor with the coaches.
Entering the season, the tight end spot has been a question mark (in terms of receiving output). After last week, little has changed to quell reservations by the fan base. Perhaps Chud is determining the best way for Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge to routinely defeat outside linebackers and cornerbacks and come away with a reception. I do not think Chud needs to strictly call plays that center on the tight end position, but ones that make them work to get the ball from Weeden. Neither of these targets will be the number one option on a given play, but when Josh Gordon and Greg Little see double teams or rolled-up coverage, someone must be responsible to allow the offense to move the ball effectively.
Defense: There has been very little to complain about regarding the Browns’ defensive line – up to this point. Several members have made an impact one way or another, and I do not envision this changing in the coming months. The starters will not have to play a whole lot (see Ahtyba Rubin and Desmond Bryant last contest), assuming they are in regular season form by September 8th. Three guys I will focus on are Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, John Hughes, and Armonty Bryant. Not all are guaranteed roster spots with the team, based on the depth at the position group. If Bryant does get cut, I have no doubt he will be on the practice squad. Hughes is more than likely to make the roster, and solid play can only help this. I hope Kitchen can remain with the team but I feel he may have some work to do before he is a part of the fifty-three-man squad.
Since the number of blitz packages is limited in the preseason, coverage skills and keeping with receivers should be a priority for the linebackers. Craig Robertson looked stellar in coverage last week; I really feel confident in saying he is locking down the inside linebacker job opposite D’Qwell Jackson. L.J. Fort is a reserve player who may be relegated to special teams, but he has tough competition there will Tank Carder. I see him landing on the roster and have hope the undersized athlete from Northern Iowa can be a cog in this defense. The acquisitions of Quentin Groves and Barkevious Mingo will prove to be huge for this team – both have (already) displayed a determined ability to rush the passer. Rotating multiple defenders with different moves will disrupt passing attacks in 2013.
Many younger athletes got to see playing time, in the secondary, facing the Rams. Akeem Auguste, Josh Aubrey, Kent Richardson, and Abdul Kanneh are a few of the names who were active. It’s rather difficult to speculate (at this point) which of these members will contribute on defense, whom are special teamers, and which will not make the team. This jumble will likely sort itself out over the next few weeks, as some athletes step up while others falter. With Leon McFadden out due to a groin injury, one member could be in line to steal a dime/reserve spot with this defense. I feel the safety spots are solid with Ward, Gipson, Bademosi, and Slaughter, but health concerns make coaches think twice about grooming another rookie into that role.
Special Teams: The return games do not have to prove anything further (to me) this preseason; Benjamin is bona fide in bringing back punts, and Lewis will succeed at kickoff returns. Avoiding turnovers is the name of the game, and that’s really all the Browns should focus on (and anything extra should be appreciated). The kicking and punting competitions should heat up on Thursday; consistency is the key. Both punters have had it, but Spencer Lanning looks to be ahead. The same cannot be said for kicking field goals; I want one of the two (Bogotay/Graham) to approach perfection during attempts, but that’s not the case just yet.
Coaching: Without showing their hands, the staff must attempt to try some new formations and play calls. They may not be prevalent in the regular season, but if they are successful – the Browns might utilize the tactics in the fall. In regards to special teams, Chud may not be as aggressive (i.e. kicking instead of going for it on fourth down) as he would be normally. The same is true with Horton on defense, but he is focused more on evaluating personnel than the number of sacks the starters can get.