JACKSONVILLE, Fla. − The Browns finally got to play a game. A preseason game, at least.
Deshaun Watson's starting his first game since January 2021 stole all of the headlines from Friday's 24-13 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. It was some other newcomers, though, who eventually stole the show.
Watson played all of three series, completing one of his five pass attempts for seven yards. What was the story for the Browns ultimately came down to the way several members of their April draft class performed.
Deshaun Watson apologizes:Browns QB speaks before first preseason game
Jerome Ford took advantage of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt getting the night off. Martin Emerson Jr. literally stole himself an interception that he turned into points.
Oh, and Cade York managed to do what everyone has come to expect Cade York to do, even though it was his first time kicking in an NFL game of any kind.
Time to look back at some immediate postgame quick hits from what was the first of three Browns tune-ups for the season.
Injury to Nick Harris an early damper
The positive feelings the Browns may have enjoyed coming into the game were squelched on the second play of the game. That's when they suffered a huge blow in the middle of their offensive line with a right knee injury to Nick Harris.
Harris' leg buckled under a bull-rush from the interior of the Jaguars defensive line. He remained down for several minutes before the cart was brought out to take him back to the locker room.
Coach Kevin Stefanski said after the game Harris would undergo an MRI to determine the severity of the knee.
Ethan Pocic, a free-agent signing from the Seattle Seahawks, came in to replace Harris. A third-year pro out of Washington, Harris was being counted on to fill the center position after JC Tretter was released in the offseason.
"I hate to see it for him," Pocic said of the injury. "It always next-man-up. You just go out there and compete. That's really what it's all about."
With Joel Bitonio and Jack Conklin both not playing, the Browns started a line of, from left to right, Jedrick Wills Jr., Blake Hance, Harris, Wyatt Teller and James Hudson III. Michael Dunn replaced Hance at left guard on the second series.
Browns offense stagnates through the first quarter
The three series in which Watson played combined to net seven yards. That matches the total passing yards the quarterback had on his lone completion, a seven-yarder to David Njoku.
Watson was 1-of-5 in the game. The Browns, during his eight total plays under center, had three penalties − only two of which were accepted − and a lost fumble by D'Ernest Johnson.
That's about all that needs to be said about that. Well, save for what Stefanski had to say afterwards.
"Obviously, sloppy overall," Stefanski said. "Eleven penalties for 139 yards is not good. That's going to get you beat in a lot of football games. Early, couldn't get into a rhythm on offense. Had a couple drops. Had 10 men on the field on special teams twice. It looked like a preseason game to me."
Jerome Ford flashes in debut
Rookie Ford wasn't the first back to run the ball for the Browns on Friday. He wasn't the second one, either.
But he was easily the most impressive of Browns ball carriers. A fifth-round pick out of Cincinnati, Ford finished the game with 57 yards on 10 carries, plus another 46 yards on four catches, and two touchdowns
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) August 13, 2022
It was Ford who set up the Browns' best drive of the first half with a 41-yard run down the left sideline to the Jaguars 17. He was rewarded for that effort in the end with a 4-yard touchdown to pull the Browns within 13-7 with 9:02 left in the second quarter.
Ford added a 14-yard touchdown catch on which Joshua Dobbs rolled to the left and flicked it over a defender into Ford's hands as he was falling backward into the end zone.
"He was rolling out into the flat," Ford explained of the touchdown catch. "I thought I was going to get the ball quick in the flat, I thought I saw someone behind me, not see someone behind me but as I was going out I could see him guarding me and I knew we were going to be in scramble drill. We have been going over scramble drill since probably rookie minicamp, so I was about to try and make a move that coach taught us and I was like, you know what, at this point, I'm going to try to get open, find a hole, found it and Josh hit me on it."
If there was a downside to the night for Ford, it was a fumble early in the fourth quarter that the Jaguars recovered at their own 15.
Martin Emerson Jr. with the impressive recovery
Rookie cornerback Martin Emerson Jr.'s "Welcome to the NFL" moment came when he gave up a 32-yard pass to Zay Jones on the Jaguars' first offensive snap. He made up for it near the end of the first half.
C.J. Bethard threw an out route to Jeff Cotton Jr. at about the Browns 25. Emerson literally ripped the ball out of Cotton's hands and started running the other way.
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) August 13, 2022
Emerson ran it back 75 yards for a touchdown with 25 seconds left in the half, giving the Browns a 14-13 lead.
On the television broadcast, Emerson hinted at a wager made with his Pro Bowl teammate, Denzel Ward. A wry smile flashed on his face when it was mentioned in the postgame press conference.
"I don't know if I want to put his business out there," Emerson said. "Y'all can ask him."
Emerson, a third-round pick out of Mississippi State, also had three solo tackles.
Cade York finally has a kickoff … at least in the preseason
You would have to go back to Cade York's high school days in McKinney, Texas, to find the last time he attempted a kickoff. Not even during his three years at LSU was he responsible for those.
So when York kicked off with 9:02 remaining in the second quarter, it was kind of a big deal. His first kickoff went for 61 yards, and was returned by the Jaguars' Snoop Connor for 25 yards.
That first one out of the way, York put the next three into the end zone for touchbacks before his fifth one was returned as well. He also made a 31-yard field goal and all three point-after kicks.
Big opportunity for Joshua Dobbs
Dobbs got plenty of run at quarterback with Jacoby Brissett not playing after Watson's time was up. Dobbs, the No. 3 quarterback when all of the quarterbacks are available, made the most of that run.
Dobbs came into the game on the Browns' fourth possession, the first of the second quarter. He led four drives, three of which ended in points.
"Just looked in the guys' eyes and told them one play at a time," Dobbs said. "It's the same reps we've been doing in practice the last couple of weeks. So just take it one play at a time. If we do that, we'll get back in the game, we'll move the ball. The (offensive) line did a great job upfront, really taking over the line of scrimmage. I think once we're able to kind of rely on the run game, our running backs, our receivers were then able to get one-on-ones outside and make some plays and we were able to move the ball efficiently up the field."
A sixth-year pro, Dobbs finished the game 10-of-13 for 108 yards and a touchdown. He posted a passer rating of 126.4.
Josh Rosen finished the game for the Browns.
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This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Browns rookies shine in preseason game vs. Jaguars; Nick Harris hurt