Cleveland Browns @ Detroit Lions – Preview of Preseason Game #1
Here we go – yet another installment of the Great Lakes Classic between the Browns and the Lions. As with all exhibition games go, the final outcome is not extremely important – it’s more about how the first and second teams perform. I can’t wait to see the guys in orange and brown come out between the sidelines; even if they make a mistake or two.
Offense: Brian Hoyer will more than likely get the nod with the starting unit. I anticipate an efficient night for him – i.e. one touchdown and no interceptions. The Browns will keep him from troublesome situations (those that could lead to another injury), during a limited number of snaps. Johnny Manziel should garner a few highlights but an interception could also be included in his final stat line. It’s safe to say Connor Shaw and Tyler Thigpen are fighting for the third-string spot, with the loser looking for work.
The running game will not implemented regularly in this contest – for fear of possible injury. The Terrance West/Ben Tate battle will be confined more within Berea and the winner still might not be the full-time rusher. The zone-blocking scheme has been talked about positively; I look forward to a solid campaign from this unit. The third-string spot is still up for grabs between Dion Lewis, Isaiah Crowell, and Chris Ogbonnaya – that could be something to watch during this matchup.
With Josh Gordon’s appeal still unknown, there are many questions surrounding the wide receiver corps. Andrew Hawkins and Miles Austin are the leading producers during camp, but who will join them? Charles Johnson and Anthony Armstrong possess the size and ability, but have been inconsistent. Undrafted rookie Kenny Shaw has been turning heads; I look for a big catch out of him in this contest.
It was sad to hear about Jason Pinkston having another blood clot in his lungs – forcing the young lineman to retire. Can Garrett Gilkey and Joel Bitonio shoulder the load at guard? I believe they can, but I would prefer my confidence to be confirmed on the field. More importantly, depth should be on display on Saturday night. Too many years have gone by where reserve linemen have played extremely poor, been forced into regular season action, and continued to underwhelm. Without the likely services of Jordan Cameron, Jim Dray and Gary Barnidge have an opportunity to prove they can pick up some of the slack (at tight end).
Defense: As the Browns refrain from utilizing the running game in the exhibition season, anticipate the same for their opponents. The result is that Phil Taylor, Ahtyba Rubin, Desmond Bryant, and other guys upfront will be limited statistically. Taylor has been held out of several training camp practices after failing his conditioning test – a reduced role on Saturday night should follow. Young guys like Calvin Barnett, Jacobbi McDaniel, and Armonty Bryant should get their opportunities to impress the coaching staff. All three have received positive marks so far, but with the defensive line being so deep, nothing is guaranteed.
I hope we get a glimpse of the difference between a Mike Pettine defense and his predecessor’s. The linebackers underachieved tremendously in 2013, and the current staff sees this unit as critical for success in their 3-4 system. I’d love to see a Mingo or Sheard garner a sack in the contest, or at least get a few hurries. The Chris Kirksey/Craig Robertson faceoff starts on Saturday – fundamental football is vital (and that may not have been the case last year) for the starting Will linebacker. I’m intrigued to know if Zac Diles can be a viable fill-in for spot duty when Karlos Dansby needs a breather this season.
The secondary will get a solid workout in this contest; besides the three guys at the top of the depth chart, I want to see what Isaiah Trufant, Pierre Desir, and Leon McFadden bring to the table at the cornerback spot. Many believe Jordan Poyer (a mid-season add in 2013) has a stranglehold on this roster in 2014. The signing of Jim Leonhard makes it a little bit harder, but if the former Oregon State athlete can excel both at safety and on special teams, then he can breathe a little bit easier.
Special Teams: For the first time in a few years, the Browns return the same kicker and punter from the prior season. I figure both to knock off the rust in this contest; they are veterans but can still use the practice. Several returners will be used against the Lions. These guys will likely not be pulling the duties in the regular season, but they could be a luxury (or a security blanket) down the road.
Coaching: Being as vanilla as a preseason typically is, coaching decisions are never scrutinized. No one wants to reveal any possible secret, and sometimes the exhibition season seems too much covert. Nonetheless, all I want to see is some passion from the guys on the sideline – hopefully visibly celebrating after successfully plays.