Cleveland Browns Instant Reactions: Backups make their case in Preseason Week 2

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - AUGUST 17: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns before the start of the preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 17, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - AUGUST 17: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns before the start of the preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 17, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

As it turns out, the Cleveland Browns decided that next week will be the last appearance for several key starters.

The Cleveland Browns and head coach Freddie Kitchens are taking every precaution to minimize the risk of a serious injury to a key player in a preseason game.

After a physical practice against the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday, Kitchens made the decision that several key starters would not play in the Browns second preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The fact that they were all sitting out was reported right before the game by Tony Grossi on Twitter.

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"“All the Browns starters expected to sit out tonight will be dressed & participating in warmups. Plus, team won’t announce expected sit-downs prior to game. So everyone will find out together who’s playing. Again, word is few starters expected to play.” — Tony Grossi via Twitter"

While a coach completely resting starters in a second preseason game is unusual, that decision does not mean the Cleveland Browns have had a ‘soft’ training camp. Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., and Myles Garrett among others have expressed their approval of the physical nature of this year’s training camp.

However, the decision surely disappointed fans who are anxious to see the tantalizing potential of the team on full display. But it appears Kitchens is feeling that discretion is the better part of valor. With that said, the one universally understood benefit of preseason games is that it gives players who are on the bubble a chance to make their case under live game conditions. That was the case in this game, which ended with the Cleveland Browns beating the Indianapolis Colts 21-18.

The battle for No. 3

One of the lightly covered but important roster battles is to see whether Garrett Gilbert or David Blough can do enough to convince John Dorsey to keep a third-string quarterback as part of the 53-man roster. Kitchens has made it clear that Drew Stanton is the backup quarterback. However, Stanton is entering his 13th NFL season and is clearly a placeholder. The Browns need to find a viable backup.

They hope to never need one, but history suggests that teams need a serviceable backup. Gilbert got the start and led two uninspiring drives against the Colts first-string defense to start the game. However, once the Colts starters were out, Gilbert led the Browns on a touchdown drive capped by a nifty pitch and catch to Jaelen Strong for a 4-yard touchdown. Gilbert also led the Browns on another touchdown drive that ended in a 6-yard touchdown pass to Johnson. Here’s the first touchdown.

Blough played the second half and immediately made an impression by leading a touchdown drive on his first series. The drive included a 24-yard completion to Ishmael Hyman, a 23-yard pitch and catch to Dorian Baker and ended with a 4-yard strike to Derrick Willies. Blough didn’t do much after that, but it’s hard to gauge the offensive action in the 4th quarter of a preseason game.

Who will help carry the rock?

There was speculation that the Cleveland Browns might serve the Colts a heaping dose of Kareem Hunt. With Hunt ready to serve an 8-game suspension to start the season, the preseason is an ideal time for him to work with the offense.  Hunt made his first appearance, but it was only a cameo appearance rushing 3 times for six yards. It was D’Ernest Johnson who carried the load with 53 yards on 10 carries.

Keep an eye on Drew Forbes

Right guard is the position battle of training camp. In limited time, starter Eric Kush did nothing to change the conversation that he may win the starting job. But it was hard not to like the work done by Drew Forbes. Kitchens was talking up Forbes all week, suggesting that the coaching staff and front office are looking to give Forbes opportunities to earn a backup slot and perhaps more.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

There is not much of a drop-off between the Cleveland Browns first- and second-team defenses in terms of scheme or intensity. There are few position battles, but If this unit continues to gel, they are going to be a handful for a lot of offenses.

Much-maligned Austin Corbett, who seemed to find a home as the back-up center, is having problems snapping the ball. Both Gilbert and Blough were juggling high snaps.

It was hard not to take notice of the 74-yard punt by Jamie Gillan (aka. The Scottish Hammer). Since the Browns signed Gillan the expectation was that he would be a long shot to replace incumbent Britton Colquitt. A few more punts like this and we may be looking at a different situation.

The Cleveland Browns may have to reassess their kicking situation. In their ongoing battle, Greg Joseph missed a 53-yard field goal to end the first half.

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However, not to be outdone, Austin Siebert missed a 52-yarder in the fourth quarter. Joseph (1/1) and Austin Siebert (2/2) were perfect on their extra-point attempts.