Preseason Game #3 – Browns @ Colts – Preview
Following a pair of fine outings at First Energy Stadium, the Browns finally hit the road during the 2013 season. This week’s opponent should present a great test, as the Colts are coming off a playoff appearance last season and performed well in their recent preseason game (against the Giants). Granted the atmosphere will not be a great as a regular season matchup, but hopefully the offense can be in sync and do their jobs amidst the acoustics of Lucas Oil Stadium. The “dress rehearsal” could be the final time some players don the orange and brown, while others may make it hard for the coaching staff to finalize the depth chart.
Offense: There’s really no place to go but down for Brandon Weeden; the second-year quarterback is lighting it up in the preseason. Completing eighteen of twenty-five throws for 229 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions is remarkable, but fans (while feeling great) may want to temper some enthusiasm. Hopefully he can continue this when teams game plan against him next month, but saying regular season football is different than preseason is a huge understatement. A key point of optimism for Browns’ fans is that Weeden has not turned the ball over yet – this was not the case last preseason. If he can continue to protect the football and make smart decisions, then the team will be in a great position to win many games. Jason Campbell has also been excellent as the backup, I look forward to him keeping it up and providing veteran leadership on the sidelines and in the locker room.
The rash of recent injuries to the running back position may cause the coaching staff to “take it easy” during the remainder of the preseason. This refers to limiting running plays and employing multiple backs during contests (and therefore reducing the number of carries for each athlete). Trent Richardson might just play a series or two once again, just to keep him prepared for the speed of the game. Brandon Jackson is now the second-string rusher; I look forward to him making the most of his opportunity in 2013. Will Miguel Maysonet and recently re-signed Jamaine Cook make the team and possibly even contribute? If they want to surprise a few, excelling in Indianapolis is imperative to survive final cuts. Chris Ogbonnaya seems to have a firm grasp on the fullback spot; second-year player Owen Marecic had a tough 2012 season and might be on his way out. He must make great strides if he wants to remain with the team.
I love the way the coaching staff is getting many wide receivers involved in the passing game thus far. The team is not relying on just one player or two and it could pay off in September (and going forward). Opponents will have a difficult task in determining how best to shut down the Browns’ passing attack; double teams and press coverage could work on one wide out but others can prosper as a result. The drops from last season aren’t as visible in 2013, and I hope that catching “catches on”. One player who has not been active yet is veteran David Nelson. However, there is a chance he sees action on Saturday – I would love to see how he is healing from his ACL injury (and bone bruise) and determine whether he can be a cog in the receiving corps. The Browns acquisition of the University of Florida star could be great if he fills in and performs well during Josh Gordon’s suspension.
It’s next man up after two injuries to offensive guards this season (Lauvao and Pinkston), and the primary beneficiary is rookie Garrett Gilkey. The order is tall, but he is surrounded by some of the finest offensive linemen in the league. If the health of the unit remains in tact, the Chadron State product can be an unlikely (at one time) opening day starter. The Browns’ offensive line has become similar to how many view referees – not being noticed is a good thing. I foresee multiple rotations and different combinations of athletes playing together upfront these final two contests – injuries and poor play happen. Weeden has been upright so far in the preseason, and I anticipate this translating similarly in the fall. Last year, the running attack could have been a bit better – improvement is needed at opening holes for backs to run through. Both undrafted rookies (Braxston Cave and Chris Faulk) are coming off injuries, but I believe at least one will make the final roster to provide depth.
Defense: The duo of Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin have been dominant in the two preseason games; it’s free-agent acquisition Desmond Bryant’s turn to show why the Browns signed him to start at defensive end. Primarily stopping the run and forcing action to the other part of the field is what I would like to see from Bryant. With the depth upfront, I did not believe Ishmaa’ily Kitchen had a good shot at making this team. However, he has been playing well and is in line to be a part of the fifty-three-man roster. Armonty Bryant is coming along in his rookie season; the front office will likely keep him over a veteran due to his breakout potential. I find it interesting that John Hughes and Billy Winn have not been mentioned much this offseason, they appear to be doing a good job but it’s hard to gauge how the staff feels about them.
With Barkevious Mingo being held out for precautionary reasons, Quentin Groves will get more snaps on Saturday night. As a member of the second unit, the former Arizona Cardinal has been getting to the quarterback and making tackles. I want to see how he does against a signal caller like Andrew Luck and his starting offensive line. In pass coverage; the Browns must prepare for tight end Coby Fleener and running backs Donald Brown and Delone Carter. All three are excellent pass catchers and provide a good challenge for the Browns’ linebackers. Craig Robertson has done well in this area, but I would like to see what L.J. Fort and James-Michael Johnson could do. Johnson made his way onto the defense last season, but has struggled to duplicate success in 2013. He is in jeopardy of getting released if he cannot prove himself to the coaches; the Colts game might be his final opportunity.
Chris Owens’ play quieted down many critics questioning the Browns’ cornerback situation. He shut down a few receivers for the Lions; there is a chance that he and Buster Skrine can be a pleasant surprise for the team. Along those lines, a pair of undrafted rookies has stood out these past few weeks. With T.J. Ward out, Josh Aubrey has held his own at strong safety, while Akeem Auguste has been physical in a reserve cornerback and special teams role. Both are on track to make the team, and I like seeing many options for Ray Horton’s backfield. Johnson Bademosi switched positions to safety, but he may be relegated to spot duty or a special teams returner (at least initially). I hope Ward comes back healthy and plays up to his capability, but as is the case with the cornerbacks – there are others who are hungry and have yet to give me reason to fear them being out there.
Special Teams: This will be the next opportunity for a player to win the kick returning duties; perhaps Johnson Bademosi, Buster Skrine, or a long shot can get consistent production there. Will Travis Benjamin obtain double duties in punt/kick returning, in addition to being a wide receiver? The team may not want to overuse the University of Miami speedster, so I expect to see multiple returners during the next two games. I thought Brandon Bogotay had a good outing last week, but Shayne Graham will get his chance to win the kicking job. If T.J. Conley is healthy enough, he will probably be the punter against the Colts; however he will be looking for work if he cannot get on the field. Spencer Lanning has been dependable this year and seeks the full-time punting duties.
Coaching: Chud has made many different play calls for Brandon Weeden in the passing game. There’s little left to prove; the quarterback has shown an ability to hit the under/crossing routes, dump offs to backs, and the deeper sideline routes. I know the coaches have some tricks up their sleeves, but fortunately they are saving them for a few more weeks. The same is true for the defense; the unit is winning the battle at the line of scrimmage but they are not rushing the passer consistently. I can’t wait to see a few guys coming off the edge, sacking quarterbacks, and forcing fumbles.