Cleveland Browns: Game plan vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers


The Cleveland Browns coaching staff is busy before Friday night’s preseason against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As the regular season rapidly approaches, the Cleveland Browns are in full preparation mode. Through two preseason games, the starters on both offense and defense have gained minimal valuable experience, and must find more opportunities in live game action to prepare themselves effectively. The best chance for this to occur is during tonight’s preseason friendly in Tampa Bay against the Buccaneers, the season’s “dress rehearsal” as many label it.

For the only time during the preseason, head coach Hue Jackson will develop a true gamelan leading up to this game, resembling the preparation for a regular season game. As the first two games were more intended to clarify roster spots, The purpose of tonight’s game will be to evaluate the progression of the starters and make necessary adjustments. Due to the fact that this game features mostly first-string players, it is the most enjoyable preseason game for fans to watch.

The starters will undoubtedly play the first half if completely healthy. Jackson and the offensive coaching staff will look for starting quarterback Robert Griffin III to be efficient early on, as the first-year Brown has already proven that he is capable of being explosive. Cleveland’s offense will also follow a game plan that seeks victory, meaning that the strategy will be more complex.

As a result, the running game will be the first unit tested. Isaiah Crowell, who has struggled early on, will be given an opportunity to make amends for his forgettable training camp. Duke Johnson will also be given his share of carries in the first quarter, as the possible breakout player will try to spark the Browns offense early on while establishing a ground game.

Beginning on the ground will allow Cleveland’s offensive line to establish themselves and practice what a true game strategy will be like. Since the third preseason game is the game coaches and fans most want to win, they will approach it with this mindset. The offensive line will feature all of the starters, including 2015 first-round draft pick Cameron Erving, though his ankle is a concern.

Eventually, play-action opportunities will open up if Cleveland’s ground game is in fact able to get going. When this happens, fans will finally witness the trio of wide receivers in action who they anticipate to be making plays for the Browns this year. Josh Gordon, Terrelle Pryor, and rookie Corey Coleman are each expected to play tonight.

After the starters on offense exit the game early in the second half, the coaches will return to evaluating those vying for position openings still on the line.

Quarterbacks Austin Davis and Cody Kessler are battling for the third quarterback spot, which will likely go to the rookie Kessler. Running backs Raheem Mostert and Terrell Watson will attempt to make a continued positive impression, as it now seems probable that they will both make the roster.

Above all, the wide receiver position in the fourth quarter will be the most revealing for fans to watch, as the group of young draft picks are all competing for scarce openings. Fans should expect to see as many play as possible, if not all, including Rashard Higgins, Marlon Moore, Taylor Gabriel, Ricardo Louis, Darius Jennings, Jordan Payton, Josh Boyce, and Ed Eagan.

The gameplan for the defense led by coordinator Ray Horton will be similar. The starters will play the entire first half and part of the second, while occasionally being substituted out for a formation intended for a specific situation. This is another key aspect of the third preseason game, as clean, fundamental situational football is emphasized.

There are several players the coaching staff will be keeping their eyes on tonight on the starting defense. Nose tackle Danny Shelton, who has quietly excelled, is one player who must continue performing his role efficiently. Since the former Washington Huskie recorded just 19 tackles and no sacks in a bit of a disappointing rookie season, it is important for him to gain confidence in a real game situation.

The linebacker group has been one of the most silent groups thus far in preseason. The starters according to the team’s unofficial depth chart are Nate Orchard, Christian Kirksey, Demario Davis, and Paul Kruger. This unit will be one group to watch early in tonight’s game, as it is still mostly unknown to fans how they will perform together in a regular season game. The third preseason game is the best indicator the coaches have before September 11.

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The weakest portion of Cleveland’s defense thus far has clearly been the secondary. Besides Joe Haden, who will most likely not play tonight, and Tramon Williams, the cornerback position is filled with instability. Whether or not 2014 first-round pick Justin Gilbert will even make the final roster is still yet to be seen, and while Jamar Taylor has improved since first arriving in training camp, he too remains a question.

Tonight’s game will present another challenge to a secondary who is starving for experience. A maturing quarterback in Jameis Winston will play more than a half against Cleveland’s secondary, with a tandem of explosive receivers in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson to throw to.

Most of all defensively, the coaching staff will look for standout performances from those players who have already secured roster spots as well as players who are trying to make their final case to earn one. Among the players fans should anticipate to have impressive performances are rookie Carl Nassib once again, as well as rookie Emmanuel Ogbah, who still has a lot to prove despite having a productive preseason thus far.

After the starters are removed from the game and replaced by those still competing for roster spots, the most important aspect of tonight’s game will be the special teams. The determining factor for most players on the bubble is how they perform in their limited opportunities on the special teams unit. Tank Carder is one classic example, as are so many of the other linebackers and defensive backs on the roster. Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor along with the rest of the coaching staff will have a significant amount of evaluating to do following tonight.

The kicking competition is also a minor yet captivating aspect of tonight’s dress rehearsal. As incumbent Travis Coons continues to struggle, it appears his competitor, former Buccaneer Patrick Murray, may have the upper hand. As far as the punting duties go, Andy Lee has no one standing in between him and the starting job, as the punter has been spectacular in the first two preseason games. Still, Lee and the kickers will treat this preseason matchup as their opportunity to prepare for the beginning of the regular season.

Next: 3 position battles to watch vs. Tampa Bay

Overall, tonight will be the best indicator before September 11 as to how much the Browns will improve in 2016. For the first time this preseason, the game plan will involve true study on Tampa Bay, and the objective is to defeat the Buccaneers. Position battles continue, but evaluation of the starters intensifies, as this game will result in the final necessary adjustments for the regular season.