The Cleveland Browns will play their first game of the 2013 NFL Preseason Thursday night as they host the visiting St. Louis Rams. The game will kickoff at 8:00 PM EST and can be watched locally on WKYC, Channel 3.
What to Look For - Rams vs. Browns
- Playing Time: Here is how head coach Rob Chudzinski said the playing time will be broken down in the first preseason game, which is pretty standard for a first preseason game:
1st Quarter: First-teamers
2nd Quarter: Second-teamers
3rd Quarter: Second-teamers
4th Quarter: Third-teamers
We may see some variations across units. For example, it would not be a surprise to see some of the first-team offensive linemen blocking a little bit for QB Jason Campbell, and defensive players like CB Chris Owens and SS Johnson Bademosi may see more action.
- Just the Basics for Weeden: I want QB Brandon Weeden to do well tonight, but if he struggles, I'm not going to even going to think about comparing his performance to the other two quarterbacks. Weeden is firmly entrenched as "the guy," and bringing up a quarterback controversy is completely unnecessary. As for what I hope to see from Weeden, a quicker delivery would be nice. He has worked on not patting the ball as much and is hoping to reduce the number of tipped passes he has. He's had good timing with WR Davone Bess on third-down drives in camp, so it'd be nice to see that happen in the preseason so we don't just end up going three-and-out.
- Ruled Out Starters: There are a couple of starters who have been ruled out: RB Trent Richardson and SS T.J. Ward. I'm not concerned about either player missing time, because it gives us the opportunity to evaluate some players deeper down the depth chart at a position that is already set. RB Dion Lewis will start for Richardson. He's looked great when the Browns aren't tackling him in camp, but will he have that same burst after he takes a couple of blows from the Rams?
- Special Teams is Paramount: Even though the Browns haven't been deep in depth at positions over the past several seasons, it's not often that a player's performance in the preseason will determine whether they win a starting role or not (usually, if someone impresses, they just hope to make the roster as a backup, like LB L.J. Fort and FS Tashaun Gipson a year ago). That isn't the case with special teams, though. The competitions at kicker and punter will both be determined by these preseason games. Every kick matters.
- Handling Kicker and Punter: We heard head coach Rob Chudzinski say that kickers Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogotay will do a lot of alternating. They will probably alternate on kickoffs. When it comes to field goals, the coaching staff will try to balance it out as best as possible. If Graham has a 38-yard attempt and Bogotay has a 52-yard attempt in the first preseason game. Then the following week, if a 40-yard attempt comes up, they'll try to give that to Bogotay, and if a 49-yard attempt comes up, they'll give it to Graham.
I don't know if we'll see something similar at punter (i.e. trying to distribute reps based on where the punter is on the field). I think a strict alternation at that position would be fine. I'm not looking for someone to "wow" me at punter; sadly, I just want the guy who shanks it the least.
- Hard to Evaluate Kickoffs: With the league's kickoff rules, it's really difficult to evaluate kickoff returners. Kickers from opposing teams are trying to boom it out of the end zone. The kickoff returner may catch the ball 8 yards deep in the end zone. In a normal game situation, you just take a knee. What do you do in the preseason?
Personally, if I am a special teams coach, I'd want my returner to try returning every possible kickoff, so I can get more live film on the blocking and return guy. It may come at the expense of the offensive field position, but then again, it also creates another "scenario" that the offense can practice in. Isn't that what the preseason is all about anyway? Practicing "scenarios?"
RB Dion Lewis is expected to get the first chance to return kickoffs, which tells me he's the favorite to be the opening day returner. Lewis, CB Johnson Bademosi, CB Buster Skrine, and WR Travis Benjamin have all taken kickoff reps in camp, but it's tough to fit so many guys into one preseason game and get a "true" look at any of them. I'd expect Lewis to get the first half kickoffs and Bademosi to get the second half kickoffs.
- Tight End Utilization: The tight ends have not made much of an impression at camp, but now is there opportunity to shine in live game action. Not only do I want to see TE Jordan Cameron step up, but I want to see how the backup tight ends rank on the depth chart. Is Gary Barnidge receiving reps with the first-team offense in double tight end sets over Kellen Davis? Do we split any of our tight ends wide or in the slot?
- Depth on the Offensive Line: We should get a relatively early and long look at rookie OG Garrett Gilkey. I'm really interested in seeing how he delivers. With OG Shawn Lauvao down with an ankle injury, if something were to happen to John Greco or Jason Pinkston, Gilkey would go into the starting lineup. At offensive tackle, I want to see if veteran Rashad Butler is a legitimate backup offensive tackle for this team, or if he's just letting pass rushers blow by him.
- Not Sure, Defensively: I'm not sure what I really want to see defensively. I don't expect Ray Horton or any defensive coordinator to get very creative in the preseason. In the front seven, I'm curious about two things: does Brian Sanford have a chance to take John Hughes' roster spot, and how do we look at inside linebacker on the second-team defense? This is a big preseason for James-Michael Johnson. Fortunately for him, there really aren't a lot of people he has to compete with. Of course I am excited to see how quick rookie OLB Barkevious Mingo is too, and how Jabaal Sheard looks in his new role.
- Owens vs. Skrine: The Rams don't have proven stud wide receivers on their roster, so this is a good week for CB Chris Owens and CB Buster Skrine to try to build upon their impressive camps. I expect the Browns to have a lot of nickel sets in the regular season anyway, so the loser of this competition might not really be losing that much when it comes down to it. Rookie CB Leon McFadden is out with a groin injury, which helps strengthen Owens' and Skrine's chances for regular playing time.
- Offensive Name Dropping: Lower on the depth chart offensively, I am interested in seeing the play of QB Brian Hoyer, RB Brandon Jackson, FB Owen Marecic, WR Naaman Roosevelt, WR Tori Gurley, and WR Cordell Roberson. He's not so low on the depth chart, but I always get a kick out of seeing WR Jordan Norwood succeed.
- Defensive Name Dropping: Lower on the depth chart defensively, I am interested in seeing DE Armonty Bryant, ILB Tommy Smith, and S Josh Aubrey. Aubrey has drawn some very good reviews in training camp as an undrafted free agent.
- Game Thread: Our game thread on Dawgs By Nature will go live at 6:30 PM EST, which is an hour and a half before kickoff. Be sure to pop in and get all worked up over the first preseason game of the year!
Television Broadcast Information
The game begins on Thursday, August 8th, 2013 at 8:00 PM EST. Locally, there is a Browns pregame show at 7:00 PM EST. Here is a full listing of television networks that will be airing the game, per 506Sports.com:
Rams broadcast (Andrew Siciliano, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt):
KTVI 2 (FOX – St. Louis)
KFVS 12 (CBS – Cape Girardeau)
KQFX 22 (FOX – Columbia MO)
KRBK 49 (FOX – Springfield MO)
KFJX 14 (FOX – Joplin MO)
WBUI 23 (CW – Springfield IL)
WLMT 30 (CW – Memphis)
KWTV 9 (CBS – Oklahoma City)
KTUL 8 (ABC – Tulsa)
Browns broadcast (Jim Donovan, Bernie Kosar):
WKYC 3 (NBC – Cleveland)
WYTV 33 (ABC – Youngstown)
WBNS 10 (CBS – Columbus)
WHIO 7 (CBS – Dayton)