The Cleveland Browns improved to 2-0 this preseason with a 21-18 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday afternoon. Starters Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham, Jr., and Jarvis Landry did not participate in the contest, which opened up the doors for borderline roster and depth players to showcase their talents.
Below are the three players I believe had standout performances in the second preseason game, including film, statistics, and discussion:
1. Garret Gilbert – Quarterback
Gilbert was selected in the sixth round (214th overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams. After being cut from the team’s practice squad, he went on to have short stints with the New England Patriots, Detroit Lions, Oakland Raiders, and Carolina Panthers before finding a home with the Orlando Apollos of the (now defunct) Alliance of American Football (AAF). The quarterback led the team to a 7-1 record, with 2,152 passing yards, 8.3 yards per attempt, 13 touchdowns, and three interceptions. After his encouraging performance, the Browns signed Gilbert to a two-year, $1,380,000 contract ($75,000 guaranteed) contract.
Gilbert has displayed the poise, accuracy, timing, and playmaking ability needed in a backup quarterback through training camp and both preseason match-ups. These attributes were on full display in the week two preseason game vs the Indianapolis Colts, where he earned the 5th highest passing grade among all quarterbacks from Pro Football Focus (“PFF”). His best play of the afternoon was a four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jaelen Strong:
The Browns were positioned 2nd and goal from the Colts four-yard line with 1:59 left in the first quarter. The offense was lined up in shotgun formation and “10” personnel (1 RB, 0 TEs, and 4 WRs), with running back D’Ernest Johnson in the backfield, wide receiver D.J. Montgomery split left and wide receivers/tight end Rashard Higgins, Demetrius Harris, and Strong split right.
Gilbert kept his eyes in the end zone and worked through his progression while facing pressure from the Colts defensive line. He delivered a perfect ball to Strong in the back of the end zone-
Gilbert completed 13 of 19 pass attempts for 151 yards and two touchdowns on the night. After the game, head coach Freddie Kitchens stated, “…Drew is our backup quarterback. Drew brings a lot of value to our team.” In my opinion, Gilbert should be the primary backup to Baker Mayfield over veteran signal-caller Drew Stanton based on this performance (coupled with preseason week one vs the Washing Redskins).
2. D’Ernest Johnson – Running Back
The young running back was an absolute bruiser during his college days at the University of South Florida, setting the school record for all-purpose yards (4,186). Further, 599 of his career receiving yards came after the catch and 1,075 of his rushing yards came after contact during his tenure from 2013-2017.
After going undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft, Johnson became a teammate of Gilbert’s on the Orlando Apollo’s AAF squad. He finished tied for second in the league and rushing yards (372) and had 22 receptions for 220 yards, earning a three-year, $1,755,000 contract with the Browns.
The young running back made a case for a roster spot preseason week two, recording 53 yards on 10 carries and three receptions for 26 yards. His three carries of 10+ yards were the second-most among all running backs in preseason week two (PFF). His best play was a 15-yard scamper for a first down:
The Browns were situated 1st and 10 from their own 47-yard line with 8:28 left in the second quarter. The offense was lined up in shotgun formation and “11” personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WRs), with running back Johnson in the backfield, wide receivers Jaelen Strong and Rashard Higgins split left, wide receiver D.J. Montgomery split right, and tight end Pharaoh Brown tight left.
Johnson immediately hit the hole, cut back, and ran 15 yards for a first down-
With fellow running back Donte Hilliard nursing an injury and under-performing in preseason week one, Johnson could very well claim a roster spot if he continues to perform at a high level.
3. D.J. Montgomery – Wide Receiver
The undrafted rookie wide receiver from Austin Peay State has continuously made his presence known during both training camp and the preseason, exhibiting sure hands and big-play ability.
His best play of preseason game two was a 24-yard reception from quarterback Garrett Gilbert:
The Browns were positioned 1st and 10 from their own 41-yard line with 0:37 left in the second quarter. The offense was lined up in shotgun formation and “10” personnel (1 RB, 0 TEs, and 4 WRs), with running back D’Ernest Johnson in the backfield, wide receiver Montgomery split left and wide receivers/tight end Jaelen Strong, Ishmael Hyman, and Pharaoh Brown split right.
Montgomery accelerated off of the line of scrimmage, worked to the inside of Colts defensive back Quincy Wilson, and made the diving grab on the deep post route-
Montgomery accumulated three receptions on four targets for 77 yards (25.7 yards per reception) on the afternoon. Further, per PFF, he generated a passer rating of 116.7 when targeted, which was 10th-best among all wide receivers in preseason week two (minimum four targets).
The position group has an immense amount of talent, but Montgomery has positioned himself for a role as the potential wide receiver six headed into the season.
Gilbert, Johnson, and Montgomery are all in competition for roster spots on a deeply talented Browns squad. Each player will have the opportunity to again showcase their talent in preseason game three on August 23 at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.