After considering to go ahead and player the starters for the preseason finale against the Chicago Bears, Rob Chudzinski opted to go ahead and rest them. Jason Campbell is scheduled to start the game. Players like Josh Gordon, Billy Winn, Travis Benjamin, Quentin Groves, and Oneil Cousins will suit up and play. This will be Gordon’s last chance to play before he spends the next two weeks at home.
The recent kicking addition, Colton Schmidt will alternate punts, but will also hold and handle kickoffs. This could further signal the Browns likelihood of keeping Shayne Graham to do the field goal kicking and then having someone like Schmidt who can punt and handle kickoffs.
There will certainly be critics of the Browns not playing their starters and especially quarterback Brandon Weeden but the risks far outweigh the rewards. Last year, Weeden sat out the finale preseason game and then had a nightmare debut in the opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. Playing a couple snaps against a basic defense would not have made the difference between Weeden being ready to play against the Eagles defense.
The larger issue is the Browns have so many players with minor, little injuries that are recovering so they can be ready to go for the opener against the Dolphins. And if the Browns lose another starter to injury due to playing in the Bears game, fans would lose their minds over the criticism. So much of preseason is getting through it healthy and this move helps insure they have their guys there for the Dolphins. Players like Desmond Bryant (back spasms), Davone Bess (knee tendonitis), Jordan Cameron (groin) and Barkevious Mingo (bruised lung) are still trying to get healthy and ready to go for Miami.
Speaking of Mingo, there has been some positive movement on that front. While they are still not giving details on a timeline or a target date to return, Mingo did a weight room lift. This appears to be another step forward in the process as this started with jogging and light lifting followed by running and now this weight room lift. It remains to be seen if he will be ready for the Dolphins game, but it does appear as though he could be ready for Baltimore or Minnesota. As much as they want him back for the Dolphins game, getting him back to play on the road against the Ravens is probably the target date behind closed doors.
The other benefit of sitting the starters for the Bears is finding some role players that the Browns all of a sudden have a huge need. With the news yesterday that Montario Hardesty is down for the year, the team is suddenly thin at running back. Brandon Jackson is currently the number two running back, though Chris Ogbannaya may get far more touches than people realize in their hybrid fullback role. This is a big opportunity for Jamaine Cook and Miquel Maysonet to show whether they can contribute for this team this year or if the Browns need to go out and bring in players from the waiver wire. Cook especially will be a player to watch because he fits that role that Dion Lewis was going to play and something the Browns really want. He had 5 touches for 35 yards against the Colts with three of those touches being receptions. Cook should have more opportunities to get the ball against the Bears and could have an opportunity to lock down a spot on the roster or make it clear the team needs help.
The Browns already tried to trade Brian Sanford once and this will give him another opportunity to audition for the rest of the league. The team will be more than happy to oblige him and hope they can make a deal before having to release him on the final day of cuts. Sanford can certainly contribute for a few teams and the Browns simply do not have the roster space to keep him. Whether it is to get a guard or a running back or there is just a player they like out there they like, they would rather be able to make a small deal than just let him walk.
The Browns will also have an opportunity to get a long, look at their new linebacker, Paul Hazel. After claiming him from Jacksonville off waivers yesterday, it will be interesting to see how they want to use him, if this is simply an opportunity to get a quick audition or if they have some longer term plans for the rangy backer.
While the prospect of watching tryout players try to lay it all on the line to keep their dream alive in the NFL is not necessarily attractive to all fans, the Browns are going to use every second of it to evaluate players. And if fans who want the starters to play are honest, they just want something to look at no matter how long they are on the field. They want a fix and having to wait until September 8th to get it is frustrating. The team has a number of roster battles to sort out and even if they may not need another game to decide, they are not going to turn down the opportunity.