It's about that time. NFL preseason is drawing to a close, spots are being finalized and fantasy football teams hang in the balance.
Pat Shurmur has admitted (via The Plain Dealer) that most starters will be seeing limited minutes against the Chicago Bears Thursday night. However, the Browns are currently a team leaning heavily on their depth. We should perhaps be even more interested in this game, given that the starters are virtually a non-factor.
I know some of even the most dedicated fans will still take the night off, perhaps opting for trivia or Seinfeld reruns. However, for those of you diehards still planning to watch, here are four things to look for in Thursday's matchup.
Colt McCoy's Fire
It could be argued that McCoy hasn't exactly gotten the respect he deserves. Once Brandon Weeden was drafted, even the densest among us were fairly sure that the "battle" for the starting spot was mostly a formality. However, McCoy has continued to run the offense like a veteran playmaker, albeit against second- and third-string defenses.
When I watch this guy, there's little doubt that he truly wants to stay in Cleveland. I humbly submit that we should be thankful for that, given his plight over the past several months. It will be interesting to see if he continues to make connections and scramble for first downs.
It seems as though the competition between McCoy and Seneca Wallace to stay in Cleveland is about as superficial as his battle with Weeden, but anything can happen. Watch to see if that fire continues to burn.
Depth on the O-Line
It's no secret that the Browns offensive line has seen its share of struggles. Preseason has exposed some weaknesses, particularly on the right, and a tendency to accumulate silly penalties.
It's like ordering a pizza on a Friday night. You're 99 percent sure you're going to get pepperoni and mushroom, but you look at the menu anyway. It's just nice to know there are options.
If nothing else, seeing their potential competitors in action may inspire the starting O-line to step it up and eliminate avoidable mistakes.
Options at Receiver
I'm not entirely sure which receivers will see the most minutes Thursday, but the odds are with the rookies. This will be one final dress rehearsal for the likes of Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin before they step onto the big stage.
I'm also excited to see a little more of Jordan Norwood. He's had some nice moments this preseason, and for those of us still dropped-pass hungover from last season, watching a decent third-stringer is like hugging a teddy bear. At the risk of sounding redundant, hard-working backups are one of the best motivators for a slumping offense.
If nothing else, we'll hopefully get to see those wheels on Benjamin again.
Tight End Battle Royale
What is happening at tight end this season? Evan Moore isn't even on half the depth charts I've seen, and yet he scored the Browns' only touchdown against the Eagles.
There's nothing better than a competition filled with underdogs, and Thursday we'll get a front-row seat. Tight ends can tend to get lost in the flash of quick receivers and new talent. But a good tight end can be an extremely nagging threat to opposing defenses, and that's something the Browns could use.
Even though he fell from No. 2 on the depth chart last year to No. 4 this preseason, Evan Moore isn't going away quietly. And considering the investment the Browns have made in him, he shouldn't.
I would argue that the last game of preseason is quietly the most exciting. This is players fighting for a roster spot, which inspires a passion and fervor that many other preseason games don't.
On the defensive side of the ball, players like David Sims also have a lot on the line. And since we know this kid is more than capable of giving us highlights, we can reasonably expect that he won't disappoint.
Perhaps the only person watching with more interest will be Shurmur. He's got some decisions to make, and Thursday may very well be make or break for a number of bubble players.