The Cleveland Browns will take on the St. Louis Rams on Saturday for their third game of the preseason. Here is a reader's digest of what you can expect to see from Cleveland in their home tune-up for the regular season:
What to Look For - Rams vs. Browns
- Playing Time: According to head coach Mike Pettine, the starters are expected to play the entire first half against the Rams, and then some of the starters will play into the third quarter. My guess is that we might see some of the receivers play into the third quarter, as well as a couple of defensive players like Tashaun Gipson, Justin Gilbert, and Craig Robertson.
- Expectations for Hoyer: The playing time that really matters this week is that of QB Brian Hoyer, who has the security of knowing he'll get the full half with no concern about losing his starting role. I think we'll see some of those accuracy issues fade for Hoyer, if not early on, then as he gets into his second or third series of the game and builds that rhythm he's been unable to get in to over the past two weeks.
- Stadium Renovations: This will be the first time that most Browns fans get a look at all of the new renovations at FirstEnergy Stadium. The construction crews have been at work non-stop to get finished on time, and from the glimpses I've seen, it's going to be a rather stunning transformation.
- Competitions: For all intents and purposes, the competitions for starting roles are finished. Quarterback has been decided, and when asked about the right guard battle earlier this week, Pettine said, "You could say John Greco at this point. I think the starting five on the o-line has been solid for a while." That's a great sign for Greco, but certainly not for Garrett Gilkey.
Pettine also said that CB Justin Gilbert would likely start in Week 1, although some of that has to do with CB Buster Skrine having surgery on his thumb. The only competition left is at inside linebacker, but Pettine actually seems content with both Chris Kirksey and Craig Robertson getting an equal amount of gameday reps.
"I think (LB Chris) Kirksey and (LB Craig) Robertson have both earned a spot on this defense, so I think they’ll really both be starters based on what package we’re in," said Pettine. "It really depends on what personnel group the opponent’s in."
- The Perfect Storm for Burleson? It's funny how I feel that the roster odds for WR Nate Burleson have actually improved over the past two weeks while he's been out with a hamstring injury. That is how bad everybody else has been, and that is why this week could be the perfect storm for Burleson.
If Burleson is able to play and shows any trace of chemistry with QB Brian Hoyer, I could seriously see it vaulting him up to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart (and even No. 1 spot if WR Josh Gordon gets suspended). Burleson was the first of the veteran receivers to sign with Cleveland this offseason, so I think the coaching staff wants to evaluate him as much as possible before possibly making a decision to cut him in favor of other receivers.
- Roster Cutdowns Coming: The first batch of roster cuts will be due in by Tuesday, when the Browns and the rest of the teams in the NFL will need to trim their rosters to 75 players. Therefore, Saturday will be the last time we see 15 of these players in a Browns uniform. The practice squad has been increased to 10 players now, so whoever is left of those 75 players will be battling for at least a spot on that in the fourth preseason game.
- Go With Manziel: I'm referring to the second half here. The competition for the starting role is over, but Cleveland still needs to allocate playing time among three quarterbacks to close out the game. Do you give Rex Grossman some work? What about Connor Shaw after the impressive job he did a week ago? My vote would be to giving Johnny Manziel the entire second half of work.
When it comes to Grossman, honestly, is a little bit of work in the preseason going to benefit him at this stage of his career? No. Shaw could use the work too, but the more you can accelerate the experience for Manziel, the better. Shaw can get some work in that fourth preseason game.
- The Never-Ending RB Debate: Earlier this week, Pettine said, "I think that competition is still wide open for that third running back spot." This has been a difficult competition to figure out who is the coaching staff's favorite. Chris Ogbonnaya has received zero snaps despite being healthy, but is that because the coaches already know what he can offer and don't need to see him?
Edwin Baker seems like the lowest player on the depth chart. Isaiah Crowell got two carries last week, which is hardly enough to evaluate him. Dion Lewis has received the most action, but many fans feel he's not a fit for this system (to which I say bull#$%^). If we see one of the guys I mentioned get treated like a third-down running back with the first-team offense this week, that will be the tip off sign of who is the favorite to make the team.
- I Hate Jeff Fisher: Every time I see Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, I'll be reminded that he is largely responsible for the reason that I'll be forced to listen to Solomon Wiclots on TV again instead of Bernie Kosar.
- Bubble Players: Here are five bubble players I want to see this week: TE Gary Barnidge, TE Jim Dray, FB Ray Agnew, CB Leon McFadden, and S Jim Leonhard. Although I don't think Barnidge and Dray are in too much jeopardy, there is always a chance that the Browns could treat MarQueis Gray as a tight end, making Barnidge or Gray expendable if they also keep Agnew as an extra blocker/special teams player.
McFadden and Leonhard have had good preseasons, despite McFadden's first-game penalties. Leonhard has looked like the seasoned veteran that he is, but he's still a bubble player until I see if he gets first-team nickel reps against the Rams, or if Jordan Poyer gets them instead. I'd give McFadden a few first-team reps to see if he can be a legitimate depth player if Skrine misses more time than expected.
Game Thread: Our game thread on Dawgs By Nature will go live at 6:00 PM ET, which is two hours before kickoff. Be sure to check in for the third preseason game of the year!
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