Cleveland Browns: What to watch for in preseason opener

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 24: Isaiah Crowell
CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 24: Isaiah Crowell /

What should fans be watching for as the Cleveland Browns host the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night to open the preseason?

With countless of hours and practices behind them, the stage is set for the Cleveland Browns to put their hard work into action as the preseason opens tonight at FirstEnergy Stadium.

For the most part, the beginning of the preseason is a time for players and fans to get acclimated to football again. This preseason for Cleveland will be much more though, as the team is still searching for an identity under their new regime. With that said, there is a lot for fans to keep their eyes on Thursday as football returns. 

The quarterbacks 

There’s never a time when evaluating quarterback play takes a back seat to much else. The Browns will see all three of their potential starters in action, beginning with Brock Osweiler. Practice can only go so far, so much evaluation will be done with a starter yet to be named. 

Related: Starting Osweiler clouds QB competition

Fans know for the most part what they have in Osweiler and Cody Kessler, but are itching to see what rookie DeShone Kizer will do with his first game action. The draft pick will have a lot thrown at him, making how he deals with this first true test a good indication of his chances of starting at some point this season. 

No matter what happens, a decision after the first preseason game is unrealistic. The Browns will take this game into account at the quarterback position, but it serves more as an opportunity to provide these players with a larger stage and fans with an opportunity to finally see their team’s signal callers in action. 

New look defense 

One of the many mysteries ahead of the 2017 season is the new defensive scheme. With a new defensive coordinator comes a new defensive scheme, an attempt to maximize the potential of the personnel the Browns have. 

This season, emphasis will be placed on stopping the run as well as a selective pass rush. Choosing the right time to be aggressive and rush the passer is everything, and the defensive coaching staff will get an opportunity to really put it all together for the first time against the Saints. 

Confusion and a lack of continuity is to be expected, but how the Browns respond to this defensively is what fans should be watching for. Not only will Myles Garrett be an exciting addition to take note of, but Cleveland’s new and improved design is bound to provide substantial intrigue as the preseason gets underway. 

Who is the primary target? 

Offensively, the Browns have gone through many changes this offseason. And while most of the attention surrounds the quarterback position, the receiving targets haven’t remained consistent from 2016 to 2017. 

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Most notably, leading receiver Terrelle Pryor has moved on to become a member of the Washington Redskins. On the flip side, Cleveland has brought in veteran Kenny Britt and has drafted a productive tight end in David Njoku. 

With so many receivers, and no one particular top target, fans should take note of who the primary target for Cleveland quarterbacks is as the team goes from the first to second to third offense.

Besides the starters, players to watch include Ricardo Louis and Rashard Higgins, two young wideouts with potential. Tight end Seth DeValve has also had a productive camp, adding to an already complicated tight end position. 

Ultimately, there will be receivers who will really make a case to make the roster, as well as receivers who earn more playing time as a result of a strong performance on Thursday. 

Offensive balance 

Another major question as the regular season approaches is how Cleveland’s offense will balance itself. There are several factors which go into this, each of which will be explored against the Saints. 

First of all, the quarterback situation encourages the Browns to run the ball. They have always wanted to have a much stronger rushing attack. Unfortunately, the Browns don’t have the weapons at running back to physically wear an opposing defense down in this way.  

As a result, the passing game is utilized more than it ideally would be. The Browns do have some weapons at receiver and tight end, but have yet to find the quarterback to make the most of these targets. On Thursday, fans will find out just how dedicated to the running game the offense is, and how quickly they bail and get thrown off-balance by putting the ball in the air more than the game plan calls for. 

How is Peppers utilized? 

First-round draft pick Jabrill Peppers has said that he prides himself most in tackling. While this is wonderful, it can’t be all the Browns are planning on doing with the athlete. 

Peppers played both sides of the ball in college, and especially excelled returning kicks and punts. 

Another burning question fans have is just how the Browns will use Peppers. He likely won’t play all the positions he did in college, but the Michigan product will be used in creative ways without a doubt. On Thursday, the Browns will begin to reveal exactly how. 

Next: 10 players to watch this preseason

As nice as it would be to get in the win column in the preseason opener, the score is about the last thing fans should watch on Thursday. With so much fresh blood on the roster, fans have plenty to watch for as the team takes the field for the first time with an actual opponent.