After going back and taking another look at the Browns game against the Rams, it is time to discuss what some of the younger guys showed in the first game as well as what they can do going forward.
– It is probably going to take a year and maybe two to bear this out, but the Browns got a steal in Garrett Gilkey, provided he stays healthy. Athletically, he is still an incredibly strong player who is incredibly light on his feet, especially going forward. He plays to the echo of the whistle, looks to finish blocks and is the type of guy that teammates will hate in practice because he is just so irritating with how hard he works. It would hardly be surprising if defensive linemen start fights in part because of Gilkey. When the games get going, Gilkey’s effort and attitude drives the opponent nuts and gives the Browns’ offensive line a badly needed injection of mea streak. Gilkey is always looking to send a message to the opponent and drive them into the ground.
From a technical aspect and adjusting to the speed of the game, Gilkey looks like a rookie, which is hardly surprising. Coming from Chadron State, the fact he is doing so well and showing so much ability this early is impressive. When Gilkey is right, he is a force and he is someone who can pull, work in combination with the center on double teams and then fire up to the next level. Gilkey is fantastic when it comes to getting to the second level but he needs to do a better job of making the play and avoid lunging. There was an ugly example of that in the Rams game but he did well in a few other spots. He also needs to do a better job with his leverage and getting into a good base when he pass blocks. This was an area he had trouble with at the Senior Bowl practices as well.
He needs time and coaching from offensive line coach George Warhop but he should be able to make a big jump over the course of this coming year. It will be interesting to see how he progresses just in the preseason. Gilkey has a ton of ability and the sky appears to be the limit. With his strength and agility, the Browns have him at left guard and if he can stay there when he moves into the starting lineup, he provides them a terrific weapon to play between Alex Mack and Joe Thomas with the ability to pull and lead block going to power going to the right. In a couple years, he Gilkey could be scary, especially with the talent the Browns already have along the offensive line.
– Justin Cole is going to make it extremely difficult to cut him if he keeps playing like he did against the Rams. After being a relatively anonymous signing as a former St. Louis Ram and having almost no time to prepare, Cole came out in a big way against his former team. He made a handful of splash plays from the edge as the fifth outside linebacker. The Browns have four outside linebackers who are guaranteed to make roster spots in Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, Barkevious Mingo and Quentin Groves. It will not be easy to keep a fifth but Cole was extremely active off of the edge as someone who could rush the passer and play the run.
There are a few factors that make Cole interesting. He is still only 25 years old. Ray Horton has more interest in athleticism and finding spot for guys rather than filling positions by straight needs. Lastly, the inside linebacker position outside of D’Qwell Jackson is relatively ordinary, so they may decide they want to use Cole in that spot. If Cole can continue making plays both as a linebacker and on special teams, he might stay on the roster over an inside linebacker when cuts are made.
– Speaking of the inside backers, preseason is only one part of the process, but someone from that group needs to step up and show why they are worth keeping. Much has been made about Craig Robertson and how much Horton likes him, but he still not doing much that suggests he is a long term answer there, though he did have a nice play against Tavon Austin in coverage. James Michael Johnson really needs to make the most of his opportunities and guys like L.J. Fort and Tank Carder need to do more to stand out as players. Fort is another guy who is difficult to cut because of all of the areas he can help, so Johnson and Carder could be competing against each other as well as with a guy like Cole for a roster spot.
– Ishmaa’ily Kitchen is the third nose tackle at this point and the Rams game was a good indication of why. The former Golden Flash had some real issues anchoring against double teams and was moved off of the ball a few different times. Certainly someone it would be nice to keep as he would be second pure nose (John Hughes also helps at defensive end), Kitchen is going to have to bounce back and play better the rest of the preseason if he wants to assure himself a roster spot.
– Speaking of the defensive line, Armonty Bryant demonstrated why the team was willing to stick with him through the DUI. In addition to the fact they really have nothing to lose by letting him show what he can do up until cut down day, Bryant was athletic and had a few plays where he looked good. Bryant could give the Browns something they do not have right now; a true pass rush specialist who plays on the defensive line. If retained, they will have him add weight as he goes, but in the meantime, he is quick off the snap, accelerates up the field well, and has a decent array of moves. While he played against a low level of competition much like Gilkey, Bryant looked like he was intimidated by the NFL. The bulk of his snaps may come in the fourth preseason game, but he might be able to make a few plays along the way.
– Vanilla defenses and injuries make it tough to have any lasting impressions with the secondary. With T.J. Ward, Chris Owens, and Leon McFadden all missing the game due to various injuries they are rehabbing, a lot of guys got extended looks at various positions but no one really stood out. Owens will be active against the Lions, so it will be good to see what he can do against a live opponent.
– Hopefully, running back Miquel Maysonet will continue to receive opportunities and be able to impress over the course of the rest of the preseason. Right now, he looks destined to be a player they try to get to the practice squad, but the rookie out of Stony Brook has the triangle numbers to play in the NFL. With Montario Hardesty on the shelf a couple weeks, the Browns are going to have Trent Richardson and Dion Lewis as their main two backs. Brandon Jackson was effective in the game against the Rams, but he has never been able to be a stand out player in his career to this point. If Maysonet can pull even with him, his upside alone could allow him to stay on the roster, but the rotation at running back in general shows why drafting a back every year is a smart move. It is a position that sees a lot of injuries and the Browns offense is going to have a ton of touches for backs. They need to find the right group.
– Brandon Bogotay should be the kicker. The Browns are giving him all of the kicking duties against the Lions and with good reason. They know exactly what Shayne Graham is going to give them, so let the rookie kick and see if he can be accurate enough. Bogotay missed a 54 yard field goal against the Rams but he did not miss by much. The larger point is that the kick looked like it might have been good from 65 yards. He has a tremendously strong leg. Graham’s strength is basically inside of 40 yards. As nice as that is, that is not as great as it sounds in addition to the fact that Graham is a 35 year old kicker. Good kickers can kick into their 40s, but Graham is a relatively average one. If not for Cleveland, he might not have a job.
Bogotay is a rookie and provided he is not a basket case, he should be more than capable of getting more comfortable and growing into the position much like his predecessor, Phil Dawson, did as an undrafted free agent out of Texas. A legend now, there were a lot of growing pains with Dawson and plenty of people were ready to get rid of him at various points in his Browns career. Bogotay’s leg is incredible and between the fact he is a touchback whenever they want and someone who gives them enough leg to try to kick from just about anywhere is a huge asset. 50+ yard field goals are far more common than people think between coming down to a drive before the half or to finish a game. A team has to have someone with the leg to try it before they can send them out there. Bogotay is someone who can easily kick it from 50+ and while it may have some growing pains, it does more to keep him than Graham does. Hopefully, Bogotay comes out and kicks well against the Lions so he can seal up the job.