After going back and looking at the Lions game again, here are some of the thoughts upon further review.
- The secondary cannot get T.J. Ward back soon enough and outside of Joe Haden, continues to look extremely ordinary. When the season gets going, Ray Horton will employ more complicated coverage looks in addition to being more creative with how they attack the line of scrimmage and get after the quarterback. And perhaps as a result of those changes, the Browns can live with ordinary. It has not helped that Chris Owens and Leon McFadden have been injured at different times, but it would be a surprise if any of the undrafted free agents vying for spots especially at corner are going to have much staying power. It will be interesting to see if the Browns try to grab any of the young roster cuts that come up in the next few weeks.
Trevin Wade continues to make some plays and show that he is a viable player in this scheme and he still seems like he is could surprise people with where he ends up on the depth chart. He was drafted to be a nickel and may end up as the primary nickel.
While the Browns are still searching for a viable corner to start opposite Haden, they seem to have a glut of nickel and dime corners. Someone needs to really step up and take that job. Reports have Owens as the favorite but Chud has specifically mentioned that he liked the progress Buster Skrine has made as well. It would not be a surprise at all if Haden is ultimately sat for the last preseason game and Owens and Skrine are the two corners who start the game.
- Speaking of Chud, it is only preseason, but it stood out as an oddity when Brandon Weeden had to call timeout because there was an issue getting the play in on time against the Lions. There was never an issue in the game against the Rams and the one hiccup they had against the Lions was the only one. That was a routine problem under Pat Shurmur. The communication seems far more streamlined and effective so far under Chud. It also does not hurt that Norv Turner is the one controlling the playcalling while Chud can focus on managing the game. That has not really come into play yet as the stakes are not high in preseason, but it will and that is another area that should run more smoothly as well.
- Garret Gilkey took over at right guard when Jason Pinkston went down and took his normal reps at left guard when they went to the second unit. There is no question he has a ton of physical talent and should be a good player in time, but he looks like a rookie, as one would expect. Gilkey is incredibly inconsistent and will go from dominating an opponent and driving him off of the ball to lunging and missing a block entirely that gives up a hit on the quarterback.
He needs time and reps and while giving him every rep possible in camp as well as the next two preseason games should be extremely beneficial, it is a dicey scenario to start him in a regular season game. Even if it is only for a game or two, it is a tall order to expect Gilkey to be able to hold down the fort until Shawn Lauvao is healthy. It would be a prudent move to bring in someone to hold down that right guard spot until Lauvao is healthy and not rushed back. Maybe Gilkey will have an inspired next two weeks and get much better, but it might be a risky move.
The Browns may want to put in a call to Brandon Moore’s agent. Moore had agreed to a deal with Dallas before having second thoughts and deciding to retire. Ultimately, he just decided he did not want to go Dallas at the deal he had agreed, so he is still available. While Moore is older than Joe Banner would normally prefer, Moore at age 33 is a perfectly good stopgap at right guard and was still playing at a pretty high level for the Jets the last few years. Moore may not be interested but he might be interested in picking up a couple game checks with the Browns early in the year and raising his profile with the rest of the league, so he could end up on a contender for the rest of the year. Ultimately, this seems unlikely but again, Moore would give the Browns a good offensive line until Lauvao or Pinkston is healthy.
- There is a great deal to like about what Travis Benjamin brings to the Browns. He is great on special teams and if not for a questionable call, would have had a punt return for a touchdown in both preseason games. Benjamin is also able to gain separation and be a weapon as a wide receiver but he has got to work to catch the ball with his hands as opposed to his body. He seems to want to use his body to secure every pass and it is extremely limiting in what he can do. It makes the quarterback’s ability to throw the ball to him far more difficult as his catch radius is smaller and requires a more perfect pass.
When Jason Campbell was in the game, he may have been slightly late on a vertical route to Benjamin as it allowed to the defender to get his hand in the play. A large reason the defender was able to knock the ball away was because Benjamin was waiting for the ball to land in his bread basket as opposed to attacking the ball with his hands. It appeared as though reaching for the ball would have had better results, but at least would have increased the possibility he would have caught the ball. Benjamin certainly has a place on this team but in order to be more effective than just a deep threat on offense, he needs to do a better job of catching the ball.
- The defensive line of the Browns has been outstanding in the first two preseason games. It is easy to focus on the starters when they are in there with Desmond Bryant, Athyba Rubin, and Phil Taylor. Taylor looks like he is ready to take a huge step forward, despite the opinion of bitter, orange reporters who still wish he was Julio Jones. Taylor has not only been able to be a force against the run, but also been able to generate pressure as a pass rusher. That presence makes the pass rush of the outside linebackers that much more viable because the quarterback cannot step up in the pocket to throw and they will be able to run the arc and track them down for sacks.
Some of the depth players have really stood out as well. Billy Winn and John Hughes get a ton of reps because are not starting but they are not far off from being good enough to do the job. Both looked impressive against Detroit. It would be a mistake to assume ‘Uncle Buck’ can only move forward as a run plugger on the defensive line. Hughes has shown he has power but has been able to make a few plays with agility and working from the edge as an end. There have been plays where Hughes lined up as an end with Winn lining up close to the nose.
Winn is even better than Hughes thus far and has been impressing since his rookie year. Now, in Ray Horton’s defense, he is moved around a lot and his natural progression has been good. Winn has demonstrated that he is not only quick but that he can also use power to get penetration and make plays. The combination of Winn and Hughes maintained the level of excellence the starters against the run, but also been able to generate pressure on the passer. In one play against the Lions, Winn was able to generate initial pressure and get the quarterback off of his spot, who then proceeded to try to step up in the pocket. Hughes was able to beat the block of rookie guard Larry Warford and draw a hold as he tried to finish what Winn started. They seem to be working well in tandem and have had a lot of experience both in preseason but also in training camp, especially when Taylor and Bryant missed time due to recovering from injuries.
In addition to those two, the other two defensive linemen that have made some noise at various points have been Ishmaa’ily Kitchen and rookie Armonty Bryant. Kitchen ends up getting a ton of reps with various groups and plays hard the whole way through. He responded from some struggles he had last week by having a better game against the Lions and showed off how spry he can be when he chased a quarterback to the sideline. Kitchen seems like someone the Browns would really like to keep and the fact that Hughes seems to be able to play both end and nose could make that a possibility. If the Browns want to keep seven defensive linemen, they can keep Taylor, Rubin, Bryant, Winn, Hughes, Kitchen and Bryant. That might be a tall order, but having a problem of too much talent on the roster is something new to this team and one they will be happy to deal with as this team progresses.
Bryant presents somewhat of a wildcard for the Browns. His off field issues have been thoroughly fleshed out and will always be something to keep in mind with him. In both preseason games, he showed what he can be as a rotational defensive lineman and a pass rush threat on the defensive line. Against the Lions, Bryant was only in for a pair of drives, but he was able to generate a sack as well as a pressure and just play with a high level of activity. He is able to shoot gaps at times with quickness and is not afraid to use his hands to try to and beat blocks, especially with a swim move which was the method he used to get his sack on Thaddeus Lewis. Bryant also had a play where he simply lost his balance and fell down. There is quite a bit of talent there and if he can keep his nose clean and continue to develop, he provides an intriguing weapon for the Browns going forward. The fact he is somewhat of a tweener in the scheme right now makes him a good player to mix things up and bring in more speed and athleticism. He can conceivably rush the passer with his hand on the ground alongside some of the speedy outside linebackers.
And with the outside linebackers, the bruised lung expected to sideline Barkevious Mingo probably for the rest of the preseason means more opportunities for Jason Cole to impress and try to hold down a roster spot. Cole really stood out against the Rams and while he did some things that looked good this past week with his speed and ability to get up the field, his lack of bulk did not problematic at times and he was moved around a little bit by blockers. Nevertheless, Cole seems like a player who could end up making things interesting when the final roster comes out, especially with the number of reps he will be getting with Mingo out for the time being. He will have a ton of opportunities to make plays and show why he should be kept.
- One thing that seems to be lost in the quarterback competition that the Browns coaching staff insists still exists despite all evidence, rationality, and common sense: Weeden is competing with Jason Campbell, so what does that mean for Brian Hoyer? When Hoyer signed in Cleveland in one of the least surprising moves in franchise history, there were some people who were crazy enough to suggest he might end up the starter. While that was never realistic, the competition in camp that was expected to happen was the battle for the backup job behind Weeden. It has never made sense that Weeden would not be the starter this year, but the backup job was open to be won. Evidently, that battle is over if Campbell is keeping it close enough to be a legitimate option to compete with Weeden. Hoyer’s name has not come up at all in this discussion.
This conversation of a quarterback competition came up after the game with the Rams this past week. After playing well against the Lions, Hoyer came out with a relative thud against the Lions. He was not particularly sharp and missed an open throw down the field and the offense just sort of stalled out before the Browns ultimately won the game and secured the Barge.
- The injury to Dion Lewis is extremely unfortunate as he looked to be ready to make a nice contribution to the Browns this year as a changeup to Trent Richardson. The Browns brought back Jermaine Cook after having Cook and Steve Slaton try out for the spot. Cook and Slaton are both similar in terms of athleticism to Lewis, so the Browns appear to be looking specifically for that type of player for the offense.
Ultimately, the player that is going to replace to replace Lewis may be sitting on another team’s roster at the moment. Teams like the Texans, 49ers, and Chiefs are carrying a ton of running backs. Houston in particular was able to snatch up three undrafted free agents and will likely only be able to keep one. The name to keep an eye on might be Ray Graham. Graham played at Pitt and was the back that took over after Lewis left. They play a similar style and have extremely similar athleticism. Graham battled injuries but when he was healthy, he was a playmaker for the Panthers. All of those issues might have him as someone Banner likes. The guy the Browns might be hoping gets cut is Dennis Johnson. Also an undrafted free agent, Johnson was a darling to draftniks and there were a number who liked Johnson over Knile Davis, who ultimately went in round three. Johnson is another player in a similar mold as what Lewis was able to bring to the team.