Preview of Preseason Game #1 – Browns vs. Redskins
Finally! After months of waiting, the NFL Draft, Free Agency, and multiple practices – the Cleveland Browns get to take the field against another opponent. This is an NFC East foe who is not too familiar with the orange and brown, despite a Monday Night Football matchup last exhibition. Let’s hope the Browns’ offense plays better in 2015 against these guys. (As usual, I omit coaching from my preview as this is a very vanilla time and they will not tip their hands with play calls.)
Quarterback – It’s Josh McCown’s opportunity with this team’s offense. He has excelled for the most part in practice and has helped his teammates both in the huddle and on the sideline. I would like him to complete a few passes of different lengths and finish off at least one drive with a touchdown. As far as backups go, improvement, improvement, improvement is extremely vital. I know it’s not regular season speed, but Manziel must look a ton better than last fall.
Running Back – The hamstring injuries to Terrance West and Duke Johnson sort of took the air out of this position group. My feelings remain the same for this exhibition year as any other – don’t risk any injuries to running backs that will play this fall. Therefore, maybe Isaiah Crowell should play one series in this contest. Other than that, it should be Luke Lundy, Shaun Draughn, and one of the new additions shouldering the load against Washington.
Wide Receiver – Here is where things get interesting. Depending on the type of offense this team will employ on Thursday, I am eager to see which guys are put into certain scenarios. Bowe and Hartline should each have a grab for a modest gain, while I hope to see Taylor Gabriel attempt a long reception. The next battle I am eager for is Vince Mayle against Terrelle Pryor and Travis Benjamin. This trio has gained a lot of positive marks thus far – who will take the first step in securing a final roster spot?
Tight End – It appears that three guys will make this team among four candidates. The question is whether rookie free agent E.J. Bibbs can knock Rob Housler, Jim Dray, or Gary Barnidge from this roster. I believe he can steal a spot – but he must make an immediate impact when joining this contest. He will likely enter in the latter stages, so he ought to excel against guys who probably will not start this fall. Other than that, I would like to see a couple nice grabs from this group against Washington.
Defensive Line – Coach Jim O’Neil has said repeatedly this offseason that “we will stop the run”. Well, it’s not the regular season – but limiting the opposition on the ground should be the defensive game plan for the Browns. Danny Shelton, Ishmaa’ily Kitchen, and John Hughes must be able to hold their own. On the outside, I would like to see different combinations to determine which guys work best with each other. It might be a pair of veterans like Desmond Bryant and Randy Starks. Perhaps a speedy rookie (i.e. Xavier Cooper) and a strong veteran might be a solid fit.
Linebacker – Not a whole lot to focus on up the middle, as it might be Tank Carder versus Hayes Pullard for the fourth inside linebacker role. The other three (Dansby, Kirksey, and Robertson) might play sparingly and I already know what they can do. The outside is where we can finally get some answers. Will Scott Solomon get the
nod opposite Paul Kruger? Can Barkevious Mingo finally live up to the first round hype? What should we expect from rookie Nate Orchard? Thursday night can be telling.
Secondary – Touted as one of the best in the league, the Browns’ secondary should be hitting on all cylinders; it just might not happen until September. The fight among K’Waun Williams, Pierre Desir, and Justin Gilbert for the third and fourth cornerback jobs will continue – perhaps one guy will step up tremendously. I do not expect the safeties to be too active in the exhibition season but I will still keep my eye on Ibraheim Campbell to track the rookie’s development.
Some modest punt and kick returns would be a welcomed sight for this Cleveland Browns fan. Both were missing in 2014, and that needs to be a part of this team if they want any chance of offensive success. Travis Benjamin might get the first shot, getting back to his old form is vital if he wants to resume his role as a returner. I also would like to see what Justin Gilbert, Shane Wynn and Taylor Gabriel bring to the table (as Duke Johnson won’t suit up).