The preseason opens tonight for the Cleveland Browns. Will they be a different team in 2013? These are the things I’ll be watching for…
When the starters are in:
1) Can the offense and specifically Brandon Weeden find a rhythm and move the ball? Weeden has been a bit inconsistent in training camp. We know that the Browns aren’t going to open up the playbook a whole lot, as Rob Chudzinski has said they are going to work the base offense and defense. Weeden needs to show that he has a grasp on that basic offense and be able to move the team against a defense that likely won’t be diving deep into the playbook either.
We’ve heard and seen the offense work on a quicker pace or tempo. How will that translate to the first game? Watch the playclock. The Browns have been working on snapping the ball with about 8 seconds left on the clock. That might be a good indicator of whether or not they are playing at the same pace that they practiced.
2) Will Dion Lewis live up to the training camp hype? With Trent Richardson sitting out, and Montario Hardesty unable to go Dion Lewis has been getting plenty of opportunities in practice. He has looked really good in drills and 11-on-11 situations. But this isn’t the first time Lewis has been hyped in training camp.
I’ve spoken to a couple of Philadelphia writers who said that Dion has looked great in shorts and a helmet before, but doesn’t take advantage of his opportunities when game time comes.
Read this 2012 training camp report from Igglesblog writer Tommy Lawlor.
“The Eagles drafted him. He had an okay rookie year, but nothing special. With the benefit of a full offseason in which to get in top shape and master the playbook, Lewis has emerged as one of the stars of Lehigh. His 2012 season is off to an excellent start.
Lewis needs to pass more tests. First, he must shine in the preseason games. Then he must play well in the first couple of regular season games. If these things happen…Marty/Andy must find a way to use him. They cannot ignore him.
Lewis has been terrific at Lehigh. He’s running the ball well, not just in space, but also on the inside. Lewis (lists at 5-8, 195) isn’t a big guy, but he was a workhorse RB at Pitt. He knows how to run iso plays and slam the ball up inside. He’s not a “toy”.
Where Lewis has really shined to me this year is on screen passes. When out in space, he’s made Eagles defenders look silly. For those who think this might be Bad Tackling, Vol. 2, it isn’t. Lewis is using some wicked moves to leave defenders reaching for air. He looks dynamic out in space. Once Lewis has beaten the first defender, he uses his burst/speed to get some separation and turn a short gain into a long play.
If Lewis can deliver big plays in games, the Eagles cannot ignore that. IF…is the key word. We all know that Andy/Marty will gladly use him 3 to 4 times a game under normal circumstances. They talk about getting more work for the backup runners, but it never is more than just talk. This could change in 2012.”
The problem is that Lewis didn’t deliver. I asked Derek Sarley, also of Igglesblog if Lewis shied away from contact or what he thought the problem was.
“I wouldn’t say he shies away from contact. But he’s not going to run through very much contact either.” Sarley continued, “The thing is, if you look at his stats in his (very limited) opportunities, he wasn’t completely terrible. (He has maybe the funniest one-year similarity score ever: http://www.footballoutsiders.com/player/27358/dion-lewis)”
“The reasons he’s no longer on the Eagles don’t have much to do with his ball-carrying abilities. In the realm of fact, we know he was never going to be better than LeSean McCoy — and Bryce Brown came out of nowhere last year to jump ahead of him — so how does a #3 RB get playing time? Special teams, where he was really, really bad. That’s obviously a big problem for a depth guy.”
That doesn’t sound promising. Last year the Eagles faced the Browns in the third week of the preseason. He rushed for four yards on five carries.
3) Does Jordan Cameron make any impact? I’ve been tough on the Browns’ tight end, but in fairness he has looked better as camp has progressed. Now he needs to make the jump from being somewhat productive in practice to making a few plays in a game. In two seasons he has 20 catches. In this offense, Cameron should catch 40-50 passes. Unless he isn’t the player that the Browns hoped for when they took a chance on him three drafts ago.
4) Will the Browns get pressure on the QB with the new look front seven? Thursday night the team won’t likely ‘attack’ like we’ve heard they want to in the regular season. That is to say, they likely won’t blitz much or disguise their blitzes. I want to see some pressure without scheming it. Jabaal Sheard goes up against Joe Thomas everyday in practice. Jake Long is a four time Pro-Bowl player himself. It will be a good test for Sheard, who has impressed the coaching staff this summer.
5) Will the secondary hold up? T.J. Ward isn’t playing, which means aside from Joe Haden, the secondary consists of Tashaun Gipson, Johnson Bademosi and Buster Skrine or Chris Owens. Are we over-valuing Gipson and Bademosi?
If the Browns aren’t being aggressive with blitz schemes on Thursday, it could be a bit of a long night for the defense. The priority of Horton’s secondary is not giving up the big play. The front group is supposed to get pressure on the QB and force quick throws and mistakes. If they aren’t putting that much pressure on Bradford, the Rams could have a few long drives.
When the reserves are in:
1) Which wide receiver steps up and makes a few plays? This is such an interesting battle to me. Gordon, Little, Bess and Benjamin are locks to make the team. David Nelson is a bit of a wildcard. Obviously the front office and seemingly the coaching staff like him. He is a big target, but hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Josh Cooper and Jordan Norwood may be battling for the same roster spot. (Though, with Gordon’s suspension, they may both make the roster for those two weeks.) Davone Bess is the slot receiver, and Travis Benjamin should back him up. Do you really need Cooper and Norwood? They both do basically the same thing, and neither do it better than Benjamin and Bess.
Behind them you have a bit of a jumbled mess between Cordell Roberson, Naaman Roosevelt, Mike Edwards, Tori Gurley and Dominique Croom. Roberson and Gurley are the tallest of the group at 6’4″. They may have a slight upperhand because of their height, but any of them would need to make a few plays in the preseason to make the team or the practice squad.
2) Which rookies look ready to play? For the first time in a long time, none of the Browns’ draft picks may end up starting in week one. Barkevious Mingo will play plenty of snaps. CB Leon McFadden won’t play because of a groin issue, and DB Jamoris Slaughter has been slowed with injuries. That means the only other draft picks playing will be DL Armonty Bryant and OL Garrett Gilkey. Gilkey is making a huge leap from division two Chadron State to the pros.
There are plenty of undrafted rookies that will see action. Defensive backs Josh Aubrey and Akeem Auguste could see a lot of time at safety. The Browns have been impressed with Aubrey in camp, but again the games will separate the guys who can play from those who can’t.
3) Ever since James-Michael Johnson was named by Terry Pluto as a guy who might be on the outside looking in, I can’t help but think of him as camp filler. Craig Roberston has solidified his spot as the starter opposite Jackson. L.J. Fort has taken up the leadership role in the middle on the second unit, making the calls in the huddle and at the line. Does Tank Carder make Johnson expendable? If Johnson stands out against second and third teamers does he get a second look? With his experience starting and playing last season, shouldn’t he be able to perform well against the second units? If he doesn’t, does he deserve to be cut?
4) What happens in the backfield? Chris Ogbonnaya looks like he has made himself invaluable by becoming a two position player. Having a fullback that can actually run the ball and catch it out of the backfield sure sounds appealing. Do the Browns keep any of the other fullbacks? What about Brandon Jackson? Can he supplant Montario Hardesty? Let’s be honest, Jackson should dominate any teams’ third string. He has the experience. Perhaps Jackson’s spot on the roster will be determined more by whether or not Hardesty is able to play and produce in one of these first three preseason games.
5) What happens in the kicking game? The Browns will alternate kickers and punters. Brandon Bogotay and Shayne Graham have both kicked well as of late. The same can’t be said of Spencer Lanning and T.J. Conley. I would give the slight edge to Lanning at this point, but even if Conley fades, Lanning shouldn’t be too comfortable. There are other guys around the league who will be cut that might be better than what the Browns currently have on the roster.
(Photo:Jon Cole for WFNY)