CLEVELAND– It is finally here! The long-awaited debut of the new-look Cleveland Browns. Here are some things that we can watch for as the Browns welcome the New Orleans Saints to First Energy Stadium tonight at 8pm.
QB Position Battle
- There are a lot of questions surrounding the starting QB in Cleveland this season. This game will present us with some insight, as well the potential for many more questions, as head coach Hue Jackson has indicated, this competition is far from over.
- In 2016 Osweiler ranked 29th among qualifying QBs with a passer rating of 71.2, while averaging just 5.8 yards per completion. Reports indicate that he has looked good as a leader in practice this week since being named the starter. It is frightening to recall that Osweiler was the 5th QB selected in the 2012 draft– 55 picks behind RGIII and 35 picks behind Brandon Weeden. Regardless of his leadership prowess, Osweiler is going to have to show that he is better than both the numbers and the film from 2016. It is going to take more than a quarter against the Saints– who are in the process of rebuilding a defense that allowed the most yards-per-play in the league last season– for him to prove such.
- As a rookie in 2016, Kessler produced well under pressure, and is still developing as a passer. Having a complete understanding of his limitations, the Browns are clearly hoping for more out of the position than what Kessler can provide at this point.
- Kizer came into camp with a similar draft pedigree to Osweiler. Selected 52nd overall as a raw athletic talent, Kizer has good size and a very good deep ball. The rookie will need to show that he can progress through reads, get the ball out of his hands and move the offense without creating turnovers. Despite having inconsistent overall efficiency at Notre Dame, Kizer’s long passes ranked among the highest rated in the country for 2 straight seasons.
- There is also a position battle for the Right Tackle on the Browns highly-upgraded Offensive Line. While not the most exciting competition on the team, it should be noted that Joe Thomas is not going to see very many snaps tonight. Both Shon Coleman and Cameron Erving have been getting a lot of reps during camp, and it will be interesting to see which player operates more effectively on the right side. Another point of interest will be how far along this entire group is in terms of continuity in both run and pass scenarios.
- After Kenny Britt and Corey Coleman, there is a competition for WR depth. It looks like Duke Johnson will be used as a weapon in the backfield as well as out of the slot this season. This leaves the roles of Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins, Jordan Payton and Rannell Hall in question. They are all said to have built on and developed their respective skill-sets. Tonight’s game will offer more context as to how the organization views their future status. The Browns receivers will be facing off against Ohio State standout Marshon Lattimore. Lattimore was the 11th overall selection back in April’s draft and is known as a corner that can play man coverage, as well as aid in run defense. His physicality brings forth a noteworthy challenge for the first team wideouts.
- This is looking like the deepest position on the team so far. First overall pick Myles Garrett is determined to make a statement in the trenches tonight against a hobbled Saints offensive line. Garrett no doubt presents a problem for the hurting unit, but it will be nice to see how other players along the front will fare in his presence and what groupings are most effective. How this line plays against the run tonight is of equal importance to the disturbances that it is poised to present to the Saints passing game.
Defensive Backs and Linebackers
Drew Brees led the entire NFL last season in pass attempts, yards, and completions. Saints running backs and tight ends should see plenty of targets in this pass-centric offense. What the Brown’s have outside of Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey at linebacker is another question that we should gain plenty of insight on in tonight’s preseason opener.
We’re all waiting to see Jabrill Peppers under the lights of First Energy Stadium. How will he be used in the Gregg Williams defensive scheme? Wherever he is lined up, it is safe to say that he will be in attack-mode.
At this point, it’s difficult to predict what we can expect from the Browns secondary this season. In 2016 Gregg Williams’ Rams ranked in the top 10 in passing yards allowed per attempt. The veteran coach’s presence should help raise the floor of this rebuilding unit.