A Preview of Game #2 – Browns vs. Bills
Following a few joint practices, the Cleveland Browns and Buffalo Bills do battle at First Energy Stadium. Both teams are built similarly, physical upfront and reliant on their running attack (and putting less emphasis on the quarterback). This will be a good litmus test for each squad, being a Browns fan I hope the team makes their mark early on in this contest. Let’s take a gander at this matchup.
Quarterback – Keep those good times rolling for both Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel. Both signal callers were excellent in hitting receivers last week (which should be expected given the base defense they went against). I would like to see a few longer attempts by both guys in this contest. Keeping away from turnovers is a must, but not the end of the world (as I have faith in this defense).
Running Back – Wilbert Montgomery has tried his best to fire up his part of the Browns’ roster, but up to this point it appears to be fruitless. West and Crowell might want to find holes and squeeze through them, if they do not want to be teammates with Ray Rice. I want to see Duke Johnson finally hit the gridiron, but it may not come in this contest. The ceiling and expectations are extremely high for this unit – Thursday is a giant opportunity to prove they will be ready for the regular season opener.
Wide Receivers – I must admit, a few weeks ago I had Travis Benjamin pegged as a definite cut by the Browns; however his play as of late has changed my opinion significantly. At this point, I would like to see him continue to improve in all facets (including as a returner). Terrelle Pryor is practicing this week, and I expect him to be in the lineup against the Bills. I am pulling for the former Buckeye to make the team, but he’s got a ways to go before he earns his spot.
Tight End – The rise of E.J. Bibbs is not surprising (and something I felt would occur). The undrafted rookie is slated to grab a roster spot, and it looks like Rob Housler will be the guy out of a job. I am looking for what his contributions are in the blocking game; it may not be pretty, but the coaches need a gauge. Gary Barnidge has had a couple of nice catch and runs during training camp and the team scrimmage – why not show off one of these against the Bills?
Defensive Line – It would be nice if a couple of guys not named Danny Shelton show up in this contest. I know what the two veterans (Desmond Bryant and Randy Starks) can do – but the progression of Xavier Cooper will be something to watch. Billy Winn (when he is recovered from his injury) and John Hughes are two guys who can be options for this run defense. Slowing LeSean McCoy will not be easy, but this is a solid test to see if improvement has occurred.
Linebackers – I liked the play of all three inside linebackers last week and am content they will continue to improve all season long. Therefore, Hayes Pullard is another rookie who had a strong opener and can swipe a roster spot away from a veteran. I want to see what he can do against some first-teamers. On the outside, it appears that Kruger and Solomon might be the two starters – but what does the depth chart look like after these guys? Nate Orchard had an uneven performance last week, but the rookie will get better over time. With Barkevious Mingo on the sidelines, I would not complain if Armonty Bryant makes his case to push out the former first round draft choice.
Secondary – Is this Justin Gilbert’s last stand? The second year pro’s poor assessment last week was a downer. He obviously was not flawless, and no one in the NFL is (even the best know they must improve – i.e. Tom Brady). I don’t expect him to make great plays, but would glad if they happened. The duo I am eager to see is K’Waun Williams and Pierre Desir; they should make Browns fans forget about Buster Skrine. At safety, Ibraheim Campbell was decent against Washington – if he can replicate that against better competition, I would feel better about a potential successor to Donte Whitner.
Special Teams: Making the only field goal last week, it would appear that Travis Coon has a slight advantage in becoming the kicker. After the starters score a few touchdowns (hopefully), I want to see the reserves give these guys shots at nailing some longer kicks. More scoring means more kickoffs – another part of the game that can decide who makes the team. The punt returner position is still not secure, but Benjamin could remove doubt with some excellent gains.