Cleveland Browns: 5 Things to Watch for in First Preseason Game
As the Cleveland Browns look for the formula that will produce a winning team, several practices have been conducted now that training camp has opened. That also means one other thing: The start of preseason is just around the corner.
This will be an important preseason for the Browns as they get settled in under new head coach Rob Chudzinski. The team has several young players as well as some new players all trying to turn around a franchise that has suffered through five consecutive losing seasons.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden will be looking to improve on his strong rookie season while free-agent signing Paul Kruger tries to establish himself the way he did in Baltimore.
The team also has several competitive positional battles on tap as well as the pending debut of the 2013 draft class.
The Browns open the preseason Thursday, August 8, by hosting the St. Louis Rams. Here are five things to keep an eye on in that first exhibition game.
How Much of the New Offense Will Be Shown?
By bringing in offensive-minded coaches Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner, there is reason to be excited for the offensive side of the ball in Cleveland.
With second-year players Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson to build around, Chudzinski and his staff have plenty to work with. The Browns were ranked No. 25 in the league in total offense a year ago, so they also have a lot of room to improve.
Many offenses have gone to using two tight ends, and that is a position Chudzinski specializes in. However, they probably won't tip their hand in the preseason opener.
Expect to see Weeden and the starters play a series or two before handing the reins to Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer and the backup players looking to earn a spot on the roster.
The Battle at Kicker
This year, the Browns have a classic battle between a longtime veteran and a young, inexperienced player. It happens to be at the kicker position.
Shayne Graham has kicked 245 field goals in his career while Brandon Bogotay has never even attempted one. However, it has to be considered an even playing field between the two.
Phil Dawson, the man ranked second on the team's all-time scoring list, is now handling the kicking duties in San Francisco after leaving in free agency. It will be tough for the Browns to replace his production.
Graham is not a long-term solution at the age of 35. Bogotay is only 24 and could be around for many years to come if he wins this competition.
The Return Game
It seems like Josh Cribbs returned kicks and punts in Cleveland forever. Now, he is with the Oakland Raiders.
As a member of the Browns, Cribbs amassed more than 10,000 yards on kickoff returns and brought eight of them back for touchdowns. He also had three punt returns for scores. That will be difficult to replace.
Who will handle the return duties now that Cribbs is out of the picture? Travis Benjamin? Johnson Bademosi? Another player? This should be one of the more intriguing aspects of the preseason in Cleveland.
With the No. 6 overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft, the Browns decided to take a chance on the upside of Barkevious Mingo out of LSU.
The preseason opener could be the first look at Mingo in a Browns jersey for many fans and it will be interesting to see how involved he gets in the game.
A very fast, athletic player, Mingo can defend from sideline-to-sideline and is very agile for his size (6'4", 241 lbs).
He will need to show he can defend the run better than he did in college in order to stay on the field, but he could be the dominant defensive player the Browns have been lacking for many years if he can.
Which Players Will Come out of Nowhere?
With a new coaching staff in place for a team that is 23-57 since 2008, the Browns are a team in full rebuilding mode. That means there is plenty of room for a player to rise from the bottom of the depth chart to earn a spot on the roster.
Running backs Dion Lewis and Miguel Maysonet are two players to keep an eye on in the preseason. While Trent Richardson is the obvious starter, Montario Hardesty has had some injury woes and could easily be overtaken for his backup position.
Rookie safety Jamoris Slaughter is another player to watch. After releasing Usama Young in April, the Browns should have plenty of competition at the safety position.
Backup tight ends Gary Barnidge and Travis Tannahill should also get their chance to earn a role with the team.
There are several spots to fill on this roster, and the preseason is the time to shine. Who will step up against the Rams?