The Cleveland Browns hosted the Atlanta Falcons for their first home game of the preseason on Thursday night in Cleveland.
Though the final score ended with the Browns losing 24-13, there were some positives for fans to take away from the game. However, as the score indicates, there were negatives as well. With the Browns coming up on the ever-so important “dress rehearsal” third preseason game in Tampa Bay, the team will certainly need a major turnaround to feel good about where they are heading into the final preseason game and opener against the Eagles.
First Bit: Overreactions to Justin Gilbert’s Playing Time
Alright, so I wanted to start off by addressing something a lot of fans and members of the media have been digging at through two preseason games. This is not to call them out, but more so an attempt to ask them to take a deep breath and re-evaluate the situation a little bit more before losing faith in the Browns coaching staff through two preseason games.
For those concerned about Justin Gilbert, it should not be a surprise to anyone that Ray Horton and Louie Cioffi are trying to take a long, hard look at the former Top 10 overall pick. Coming out of college, his size, speed and raw athletic traits were compared by many to Patrick Peterson—the five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro the two are credited with developing during the 2011 and 2012 seasons when they were on the Arizona Cardinals staff.
Now, before you freak out on the computer screen allow me to clarify something. I am not saying Gilbert is Peterson. What I am saying is that two coaches who are known for developing defensive backs with the best of them in this league inherited a former Top 10 first-round defensive back who has comparable athletic traits on paper to a player they molded and helped develop into one of the best in the game. Wouldn’t you give that player a long, hard look in “games that do not matter” before cutting ties with him?
On a financial standpoint, Gilbert’s four-year rookie contract of $12.8 million is fully guaranteed because of his draft slot. Also, with next year being the last of the original deal—the team will have to decide then whether or not to pick up the fifth-year option (longshot at this point).
In order to make a decision on the future of Gilbert, the new coaching staff and front office (yes, Sashi Brown was here but was not calling the shots) needs to see him receive extended playing time. If there is something there (Gilbert is only 24-years old), they need to find out now because roster spots are going to be at a premium come 53-man cut time. If they are not seeing something they can mold, they may attempt to test the trade market on the former first rounder to see if someone wants to take a crack at him.
Second Bit: RG3 Makes the Browns Offense Fun to Watch
Before you refresh your screen to see if that was a misprint, I’ll save you the trouble—it wasn’t. For all of the questions and concerns that surrounded the addition of Robert Griffin III, his ability to push the ball vertically without fear has brought something that Browns fans are not used to—an exciting offense to watch.
Griffin completed 6-of-8 passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons first-team defense on Thursday night, compiling a rating of 154.2. He also showed off the ability to run when needed, taking off three times for 36 yards—including a 22-yarder which absolutely stymied the defense after a pump fake.
Will we see the running ability of RG3 from his rookie year? Most likely not, but it appears the threat of him running is on full display this preseason from head coach Hue Jackson. This is going to force opposing defenses to gameplan for the chance of him running, which means someone is going to have to spy him or stay in the box—thus opening major opportunities down the field. This leads me to…
Third Bit: The Cleveland Browns Actually Have Playmakers On Offense!
If someone told me a few months ago that both Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon would not play a snap on offense and the team would be beating people for 50-yard touchdowns, I would have told them they were nuts. But that is exactly what happened against the Falcons on Thursday night.
Terrelle Pryor’s emergence as a legitimate weapon on the field and not just a gadget/trick play player is a real thing people. He torched one of the game’s top young cornerbacks (Desmond Trufant) for a 50-yard touchdown reception. Seriously, watch the end of the video again—he is pulling away in full stride, 50 yards down the field. That is impressive.
It also appears that Gary Barnidge has not lost a step, catching a beautifully thrown pass from Griffin for a touchdown. He finished with two catches for 26 yards and a touchdown on the night. He should once again be a big part of the Browns offense in 2016.
On the rookie wide receiver front, Ricardo Louis had a hamstring issue and did not see playing time. Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins once again saw early playing time, snagging one catch for 10 yards. With Andrew Hawkins out, Higgins seems to be developing chemistry with Griffin and the first-team offense, which leads me to wonder if Hawkins could be on the way out via trade (cheap, $1 million contract for this season). Jordan Payton also got in the mix at receiver, catching one pass for three yards.
On a final “playmaker note,” fans should not sleep on Randall Telfer in the tight end mix. He had a fantastic grab for 30 yards against the Falcons. Though many have talked about Connor Hamlett, J.P. Holtz and rookie Seth DeValve this offseason, the second-year player who missed his entire rookie year with an injury can provide a major boost to the unit thanks to his natural, aggressive blocking abilities he was touted for coming out of USC. He was especially known for being an asset in run blocking, so if the team is developing him as a receiver as well—watch out.
Fourth Bit: Isaiah Crowell Seems to Have the Lead on the Lead Back Role
There was a lot of talking coming into the preseason about a Jeremy Hill/Giovanni Bernard-type split between Crowell and Duke Johnson. Through two preseason games (small sample size), that does not exactly seem to be the case running the ball.
Both backs carried the ball just one time in the opener against the Packers, but against the Falcons it was a different story. Johnson saw just three carries for six yards, looking very ineffective with the ball in his hands. On the other side, Crowell ran the ball seven times for 28 yards.
Crowell seemed to be running with more confidence and better vision, following his blockers and finding the holes in the line with ease. Maybe this was just a case of “sticking with the hot hand,” but it appears the team is more willing to roll with Crowell as the lead back and use Johnson to spell him and in passing situations—though Crowell was split out wide in a formation or two as well.
Fifth Bit: The Barkevious Mingo Project Took a Turn
The up and down career of Mingo was rumored to going in a different direction, as reports out of camp had him taking snaps at middle linebacker. We finally saw it in a game against the Falcons—in the fourth quarter.
Though many people were quick to hit social media with the “but he cannot tackle” line, Mingo seemed more comfortable playing in the middle. He had a few very nice plays, both in run support and coverage, and even tracked down a play on the opposite side of the field from him thanks to his speed and quick reaction skills to the play.
Does this suddenly mean Mingo’s career is going to revive in the final year of his contract with the Browns? Absolutely not. He was making plays in the fourth quarter against players who may not be on an active roster in a few weeks.
But if Mingo can find some confidence at the position, it may be a way for the Browns to have depth and a player familiar with Ray Horton’s defensive scheme. After Demario Davis and Christian Kirksey, the team has Justin Tuggle, Tank Carder and two rookies (Scooby Wright and Dominique Alexander). So Mingo absolutely has a chance to carve out a role if he can grasp the position quickly.