After two close losses in their first two preseason games, the Cleveland Browns finally notched a win in their “dress rehearsal” game in dominating fashion over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Opening up a 17-0 lead and never looking back, Mike Pettine’s Browns finished off the Buccaneers 31-7—and there was plenty to be happy about for the front office, the coaching staff and the fans.
Now, we could talk about all of the positives and negatives from this one, but that would be a pretty large list. Instead, I have isolated five important takeaways that you should have at your disposal as you head to the water cooler to talk about a Browns victory this week.
All About the Benjamin
Early in training camp, wide receiver Travis Benjamin was written off by many (including this writer). However, it is time to forget about that nonsense because Benjamin not only has a firm spot on this roster—he could be a breakout player for the Browns this season.
Setting the tone with a 53-yard punt return for a touchdown, Benjamin looks explosive and like his knee injury is finally fully healed. He is also a clear favorite of Josh McCown (made a spectacular catch on a pass tipped when the pass rush was in McCown’s face in the first quarter) and the Browns quarterbacks, catching four passes for 39 yards on four targets. This brings his preseason total to seven catches for 55 yards and a touchdown on nine targets.
With blazing speed and vastly improved route-running, a healthy and confident Benjamin could be a major weapon for McCown and the Browns offense. Adding him to the mix with Dwayne Bowe, Brian Hartline, Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel could give the Browns an underrated unit with big-play potential written all over it.
Hello, Mr. Bryant
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Armonty Bryant having the potential to make his presence felt in a big way this preseason. Instead, it was Desmond Bryant leaving Browns fans dreaming of what could be this coming season from their defensive lineman.
Since joining the Browns in free agency back in 2013 as a defensive end, Bryant has racked up 8.5 sacks, but against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers he looked like he could put up that many in 2015 alone. He looked motivated, unblockable and had a nose for the quarterback we have not yet seen since he joined the team.
His high motor showed off on Saturday night, as he notched two quarterback sacks and three total quarterback hits (according to ESPN). With the massive Danny Shelton taking up two blockers every play, Bryant clearly benefited from more one on one opportunities. With everyone focused on what Shelton is going to do statistically, the players around him could put up some big seasons of their own as well.
Will Any Running Back Please Stand Up?
Despite looking explosive early on in the first quarter, Isaiah Crowell finished the night with eight carries for 27 yards (3.4 yards per carry). His counterpart, Terrance West, was equally not impressive—notching seven carries for 26 yards (3.7 yards per carry). To put it simple, that challenge issued by running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery has not yet been answered.
After looking more decisive and explosive last week, West really took a step back in this one. He reverted back to his dancing and going east and west ways, once again bringing up bad memories of the Trent Richardson days. Though he finished with seven carries for 26 yards, if you remove his big gainer of 17, that puts West at six carries for just nine yards on the night.
Crowell and West were supposed to take a step forward during camp after solid rookie campaigns, but neither has done enough to solidify the starting job. Add in the fact that rookie Duke Johnson finally made it on the field, only to leave with a concussion, and the whispers of adding a veteran running back to the mix are not going away any time soon.
How Much Depth Can One Secondary Have?
Don’t worry, before I wrote that I knocked on wood—but seriously, after years of not having depth in the secondary the Cleveland Browns could have one of the deepest (and most talented) units in the league. With 2014 first-round pick Justin Gilbert out with a hip injury, the Browns secondary saw another youngster make his presence known in a big way.
Charles Gaines, a sixth-round rookie out of Louisville, had a fantastic night prior to leaving with a hamstring injury late in the game. He intercepted a pass and batted down two others, while playing excellent coverage all night long.
Gaines wasn’t the only youngster who played well, as another member of the 2015 draft class could be seen all over the field. That player was fourth-round pick Ibraheim Campbell out of Northwestern. Campbell tied for the team lead (according to ESPN) with five total tackles on the night, including one sack.
With members of the secondary rotating out all preseason with various injuries, the depth in the unit has made the most of extended playing opportunities. It is obviously a good problem to have, but Ray Farmer is going to have a difficult decision or two to make when it is time to cut down to 53.
Interior Domination Fun to Watch
When the Browns drafted Shelton in the first round of the 2015 draft, they expected him to take up two blockers and open up opportunities for the players around him. Not only has the youngster done just that, but he is developing into quite the playmaker at the point of attack to go with it. Every game, Shelton is shoving linemen into the backfield, making big plays on the ball-carrier and can be seen running sideline to sideline to make a tackle.
But Shelton isn’t the only interior lineman making a name for himself, as Jamie Meder could be carving out a roster spot as well. Registering five tackles, including one sack, on Saturday night, Meder has dominated the second and third units the way Shelton has the first all preseason. Playing with a relentless motor and knack for finding the ball, Meder seems to be in on every big play and stop at the line when he is in the game. In fact, do not be surprised if it is Meder and not Billy Winn or Ishmaa’ily Kitchen on the final roster when it is all said and done.