BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – Saturday night’s third preseason game for the Browns is more than just a dress rehearsal for head coach Hue Jackson.
Sure, Jackson will use the game to get as much work in as he thinks in necessary for his starters but there are a lot of things he’ll have his eye on in an effort to sort through some of the more pressing questions that remain with his team.
“There are some battles that are going on,” Jackson said, “and we are going to have to make some tough decisions going forward, but that is a good problem to have.”
We’ll take quarterback off the table and assume that rookie DeShone Kizer will start on Sept. 10 against the Steelers so here are 5 other things that need to be sorted out Saturday night against the Buccaneers.
Receivers Nos. 3-6: Corey Coleman and Kenny Britt will start and be atop the depth chart at the position, which lacks experience and talent. Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton – selected in the 2016 draft along with Coleman – appear to be locks to make the team leaving 1 roster spot open at the position. The question for Jackson isn’t just who gets that final spot – Josh Boyce, Rannell Hall, Richard Mullaney, Rasheed Bailey, Mario Alford, Jordan Leslie or someone off the waiver wire on Sept. 6 – but who will third, fourth and fifth off the bench. Hall has 4 catches, Boyce 3 through 2 preseason games while the other 4 have combined for 5 catches. The lack of talent at wideout combined with his ability to catch the football out of the backfield has seen running back Duke Johnson move to the slot making receiver by far the most pressing problem for Jackson to figure out, especially if he intends to start the rookie Kizer this season.
Tight Ends: Randall Telfer remains atop the depth chart, mostly due to his blocking ability, while Seth DeValve and rookie David Njoku are second and third. Jackson knows what DeValve can bring to the table and he’s looking for “a big jump” from Njoku, who caught 1 pass for a yard against New York Monday night, in his second preseason game. While J.P. Holtz could work his way into the conversation, the meaningful snaps Saturday night will go to Telfer, DeValve and Njoku.
Front 7: While defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will run a 4-3 base defense, he likes to mix up his personnel alignments. Cutting veteran Desmond Bryant opens the door for Trevon Coley to start in his place at defensive tackle next to Myles Garrett and Jamie Meder with Emmanuel Ogbah opposite Garrett on the d-line. Christina Kirksey (WILL) and Jamie Collins (SAM) will be in most packages but Williams has the option to pull MIKE linebacker Joe Schobert for an extra defensive lineman or safety. Who those moving parts will be – outside of the starters – need to be sorted through.
Secondary: The top 4 corners are set – Joe Haden, Jamar Taylor, Jason McCourty and Briean Boddy-Calhoun – leaving just 1 or 2 spots up for grabs depending if the Browns decide to keep 5 or 6 corners. Williams will likely want to keep at least 4 safeties meaning that Kai Macua and Calvin Pryor III are competing for a spot behind Jabrill Peppers, Derrick Kindred and Ibraheim Campbell.
Kicker: Rookie Zane Gonzalez continues to push Cody Parkey for the job but there haven’t been many opportunities outside of kickoffs through the 2 preseason games to showcase either kicker. Gonzalez hit the only field goal attempt – a 39-yarder – while making both of his PAT attempts. The seventh-round pick and 2016 Lou Groza award winner has netted touchbacks on all 4 of his kickoffs while Parkey has had 1 of his 3 kickoffs returned. Parkey has also made a PAT.