With one game in the books, the Browns learned some good things (Joel Bitonio, Chris Kirksey, John Hughes all looked great), some bad things (May God help us if we have to play any backup offensive lineman), and took one step closer to deciding on a quarterback. On Tuesday, after Monday night’s game against the Washington, Mike Pettine will reportedly announce who wins the starting position between Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel. Opinions on the matter are plentiful, but this game will provide the coaches the final piece of evidence as to who should start against the Pittsburgh Steelers in week one of the regular season.
On the defensive side, Justin Gilbert will be able to showcase his abilities in a game for the first time in a Browns uniform. As a precaution, he was held out the first preseason game, but expect him to play early and often as three Cleveland cornerbacks, Buster Skrine, Pierre Desir, and Isaiah Trufant, did not travel with the team and will not play.
Coach Mike Pettine will use this as the second game in which he will give those on the roster bubble as possible cuts the chance to showcase their abilities. Often, teams use the third preseason game as an opportunity to play the starters a long period of time, giving them a feel for the length and speed of a true NFL regular season game. Because teams must cut their rosters from 90 to 75 players after the third game, the second, and upcoming game, will provide them a platform to play those in danger of being a casualty of the mandatory 15 player cut.
Thirteen Things to Keep an Eye on
The Final Edition of Brian Hoyer v. Johnny Manziel.
Finally, after months of speculation dating back to the epic moment Roger Goodell announced Manziel was bringing his talents to Cleveland, we will have closure on the debate about who should quarterback the 2014 Browns. As I wrote about in my Game 1 Winners and Loser post, no one separated themselves against the Lions. At the helm of the first team, Hoyer preformed about as well as you would expect. He delivered some strikes, missed some receivers, looked like a leader, and, most importantly, never turned the ball over. However, he also never did anything to blow anyone away. If he wants to grab the starting position, he needs to throw more passes similar to the deep ball he threw that Miles Austin dropped.
As for Manziel, I am unsure how to grade his first game. Behind the awful second string offensive line, he had no time to throw, rarely had anyone open, and somehow came out looking alright. Besides the ball that hit his receiver in the feet, Manziel looked competent, even showing his speed up the middle on a scramble for 17 yards. Against Washington, he will, for at least part of the game, be protected by the starting offensive line and throw to Jordan Cameron, Josh Gordon, and the starting receivers. As the rookie, he needs to avoid all mistakes while making decisive reads and quick, accurate throws. Last game, we were unable to learn much about Manziel, but with some time on the first team offense, expect to see whether he is ready to start in the NFL or if he needs more time to adjust to the increased speed of his reads and the game as a whole.
Who Makes the Team as Backup Running Back?
Between the two running backs who got carries in game one, Dion Lewis and Edwin Baker, and those who did not get to carry the ball, Isaiah Crowell and Chris Ogbonnaya, the Browns have a healthy competition to see whether one or two can play their way onto the roster. In the first game, neither Lewis nor Baker looked very good, although they both played behind the awful second string offensive line. Lewis’s fumble will hurt him badly. as will his lack of blocking ability, so he will need to take advantage of any opportunity against Washington.
Ogbonnaya and Crowell should each get chances to at running back on Monday night. In fact, if either does not carry the ball, I would worry about their chances of making the team. Ogbonnaya has proven ability to play multiple positions and special teams, so he should have a leg up on the other three already. However, Crowell is a rookie who has received limited reps in practice, not an enviable position. Both must look strong against the weak Redskins defense, or their time in Cleveland may be limited.
Brace for the Joel Bitonio Hype Train?
After just the first week of the preseason, hyping a player is stupid and irrational. But, I could barely hold off after watching Joel Bitonio absolutely dominate Ndamukong Suh and the rest of the Lions’ front seven. He uses his lack of size to his advantage, often sprinting to block a linebacker and cut him off from the rest of the play. Sometime to watch on Monday and in the future: Zone run to the right. With Alex Mack, John Greco, and Mitchell Schwartz plowing the front-side, Bitonio can use his elite speed to cut off the back-side linebackers, allowing the running back a massive cut-back lane. If he plays a game similar to that of his first, expect me to shamelessly jump on and conduct the Joel Bitonio hype train.
Jordan Cameron: Unleashed
With Josh Gordon likely out for a portion of the season, Jordan Cameron needs to dominate as he has against his own teammates in training camp. He missed the first preseason game, but expect Cameron to make an impact against the Redskins, becoming both Hoyer and Manziel’s top target on many play action passes. Although I do not expect him to play a major role in the game, it will be interesting to note how Kyle Shanahan uses him. He used tight ends and H-Backs interchangeably, placing them on the line as normal tight ends, split out as a wide receiver, or even in the backfield like a fullback.
Can a Single Wide Receiver Get Open?
I love the value the Browns got from the Bills in moving the fourth pick in the 2014 Draft for the ninth pick along with 2015 first and fourth round picks. But, watching Sammy Watkins play in Buffalo and then seeing the Browns trot out Willie Snead and Charles Johnson pains me. As much as I like Taylor Gabriel and Johnson, neither have proven that they are competent enough to play in the NFL. The Browns desperately need Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin, Nate Burleson, or Travis Benjamin to step up and make a play. Austin had a major drop, Hawkins made a nice 15-yard catch in which most of the yardage was gained after the catch, and neither Burleson nor Benjamin played. Against the Redskins, at least one of the four veterans must stand out or we may be in for an ugly passing game this season.
Chris Kirksey/Craig Robertson
Although each of these inside linebackers has a weakness, coverage for Robinson and run stopping for Kirksey, they may be able to combine to cancel out each individual’s weakness. Against the Lions, Robinson looked great against the run, often knocking a lineman or fullback backwards into the backfield. Against the pass, Kirksey dominated, shutting down Detroit’s first round pick and tight end Eric Ebron. If the Browns plan to use Robinson on first downs along with second and third and longs while subbing in Kirksey for obvious passing situations, they may be able to maximize each linebacker’s strengths. Hopefully, we will see each dominate in their respective areas in Washington.
The Debut of Justin Gilbert
With the eighth pick, selected Justin Gilbert, an athletic freak of a cornerback from Oklahome State University, a shock to many who predicted the Browns traded down and then up a pick to take Johnny Football. Although the trade from four to nine received nearly unwavering support, the selection of Gilbert was not met with unanimous praise. Some analysts believed Michigan State corner Darqueze Dennard was the best cornerback in the draft and Gilbert’s technical skills pale in comparison to his fellow cornerback draftees. This will be put to the test on Monday as he likely replaces the injured Buster Skrine across from Joe Haden.
Preseason Game One 53-Man Roster Projection
- At quarterback, I expect Connor Shaw to beat out newly-signed Rex Grossman. Despite the difference in each signal caller’s experience, Shaw offers the long-term potential that Grossman does not possess.
- This week, I predicted Ogbonnaya win the backup running back slot over Isaiah Crowell, Edwin Baker, and Dion Lewis. Although I believe Crowell is a better runner, Ogbonnaya offers a much more diverse option, a quality offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan holds in high regard.
- The biggest change from last week came at wide receiver, as I down-graded Travis Benjamin and Nate Burleson from locks. Although they each have a great chance of making the 53-man roster, their injuries have prevented them from stepping foot on the field. Last week, Taylor Gabriel played well as a receiver on special teams, the role that Benjamin normally fills. He could pass either Burleson or Benjamin on the depth chart due to the versatility he offers.
- On the defensive line, I upgraded John Hughes to a lock. After the first preseason game, there is no chance the Browns cut him. Hughes dominated in stopping the run and I expect that to continue against Washington.
(Photo: Scott Sargent/WFNY)