Browns @ Bears – Preview– Preseason Game #4
It’s the preseason finale Thursday night in Chicago as the Browns face off against the Bears. These two teams have matched up against each other in the exhibition season for the last few years. The starters will see maybe one series, but there’s a chance some will not suit up. After the first round of cuts, rosters become (relatively) final on Saturday. While this may not be the most exciting contest of the season, I am certain I will have a good time watching it inside Soldier Field.
Offense: Fans are not going to see anything new to sway their opinion on Brandon Weeden during this contest. The signal caller will head into the regular season on a sour note and will have to prove himself when he squares off with the Dolphins. Jason Campbell should fare well in this contest; the veteran has done a good job against reserve players so far. After a few decent games, Brian Hoyer only had four attempts and tossed a pick-six against the Colts. I would like to see what he can do in extended time; if he wants to have a shot at being the quarterback for the Browns one day then playing well on Thursday would be a good starting point.
A steady dose of Jamaine Cook will likely be the norm for the Browns’ game plan. The recent re-signed back will be given an opportunity to win a gig on the fifty-three-man squad. I think the team will keep him, assuming Dion Lewis goes to IR and they release Owen Marecic. Brandon Jackson, who has had his moments this preseason, may take a few carries as well. Will Chris Ogbonnaya take some carries at running back this contest? The veteran has been very versatile and can absorb hits between the tackles. The aforementioned Marecic is the big question mark; he appears to have fallen out of favor with this regime. Playing mostly special teams puts you in a spot where you have to fight against many just to remain on the roster.
This is the contest where Josh Cooper will put his finishing touches on an unexpected, encouraging exhibition season. The wide out has surged ahead in the race to play behind Little, Gordon, Benjamin, and Bess. If nothing else than to see how healthy he is, I really hope David Nelson plays most of this contest. He has great size (6-5 and 217 lbs.) and has shown an ability (in Buffalo) to be a dependable receiver. I have liked Jordan Norwood in the past, but the Browns have acquired several talented athletes so the former Penn State wide out was deemed expendable. Outside of some excellent acrobatic Jordan Cameron catches, the tight end position has been underwhelming. Gary Barnidge and Kellen Davis will both make the team and will be on display in Chicago. I do not envision big things from either however.
Sometime diamonds in the rough are found in the final preseason game; the Browns will employ a multitude of offensive linemen this week. Both the young (like Jarrod Shaw) and experienced (like Rashard Butler) will take the field. I look forward to the coaching staff determining who can be excellent candidates to provide depth upfront. Campbell and Hoyer will likely take a few sacks, but that is to be expected when the offensive line consists of five guys who do not play regularly beside one other.
Defense: Due to his recent back issues; veteran Desmond Bryant has been limited thus far in the preseason. I hope he is healthy enough to start Thursday – if he is, I would like to see him play a series or two to knock off “some of the rust”. Two of the reserve members I will focus on during this contest are John Hughes and Ishmaa’ily Kitchen. They will be on the field a majority of the time, and I anticipate both proving to be solid contributors. Hopefully they can watch what Ahtyba Rubin was doing wrong last week (rushing up the field and over-running plays), and execute smarter to be in better spots to stop the Bears’ offense.
This should be an interesting matchup for the outside linebackers. With several first and second teamers hurt or inactive, the Browns may field a few players who will not end up on the final roster. I highly doubt that Tank Carder, Justin Cole, or Tommy Smith will be so impressive to earn a regular rotational spot with this defense. L.J. Fort and James-Michael Johnson will see a fair amount of time in the inside spots. Fort will definitely make the team, if for nothing else to be a part of special teams. They must be dominant in tackling; if they cannot do that on Thursday then they should not be with the Browns. I had hope and promise last year for Johnson, but I would be surprised if he survives final cuts.
The secondary will face fewer throws (from reserve quarterbacks) this week. I hope Tashaun Gipson and Johnson Bademosi see several reps at safety, while Buster Skrine and Leon McFadden should be on the field at cornerback. These four should hold their own, as they will not be facing the starters – if they struggle, then concerns will increase significantly. Following these members, Josh Aubrey (recovering from a hand injury) and Akeem Auguste will be active. I feel both will be on the final roster but not as integral members of the defense; that could change if injuries or extremely poor play occur.
Special Teams: After the dismal performance last week, the Browns’ special teams must get back on track against the Bears. The punting and kicking games have been good-to-very good; consistency is starting to be seen. However, the coverage units have been looking poor – both the schemes and personnel should be re-evaluated in practice. With Devin Hester likely sitting out, the punt and kickoff teams should limit the Bears’ returns.
Coaching: This will be the last, tedious preseason game called by Chud and Ray Horton. Running plays (for both teams) will be more prevalent than other contests – both want a speedy matchup with few injuries. With many reserves playing, I anticipate strictly more of a base defense for the away squad. There’s no way Horton will tip his hand now, especially without Paul Kruger or Barkevious Mingo on the field.