It is finally here Cleveland Browns fans, the day you have all been waiting for since the once 7-4 2014 team finished on a five-game losing streak to end the season. Yes, the first semi-meaningful game of the 2015 season is upon us, as the Cleveland Browns host the Washington Redskins in their first game of the preseason.
Now, I know what you are thinking—who gets this excited for a preseason game? Well, as someone who has desperately missed football since the Ohio State Buckeyes hoisted the National Championship trophy, I get this excited. So if you love football and the Cleveland Browns, you should be too.
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Back to the contest at hand, where the outcome does not matter as much as the player development on the field does. We have all read storyline after storyline all offseason, have heard about player x performing well and standing out at camp and have been patiently waiting to see if this all translates onto the actual football field—you know, where the game is played. With all of this in mind, I could break down every position and tell you what I am looking for in tonight’s game, but you heard all of that on last night’s C-Town and Down Show if you tuned in.
Instead, in honor of former No. 3 for the Cleveland Browns—Brandon Weeden—I have keyed in on three things that are going to be very important for you to watch in the first preseason game. If there is something not on this list you think should be talked about, feel free to leave it in the comments section.
Can Shane Wynn or Josh Lenz Steal a Roster Spot?
All offseason, the focus at the wide receiver position has been on Terrelle Pryor’s big switch from quarterback, whether or not Travis Benjamin can finally make an impact and what the free agent acquisitions bring to the team. While Pryor made waves early in camp, he has been hampered by a hamstring injury and will miss the first game. With him out, two little know players—Shane Wynn and Josh Lenz—have become household names among Browns fans.
Wynn, a product of Glenville and former Indiana Hoosier, stands just 5’6” and 167 pounds—but is playing much bigger than his size. After hauling in 189 passes for 2,198 yards and 20 touchdowns in college, he was waived by the Atlanta Falcons and claimed off waivers by the Browns. Wynn’s versatility—over 2,000 combined return yards in his career—could help him make this roster. However, his size being similar to that of Taylor Gabriel (Gabriel is two inches taller) could be tough to overcome.
On the other hand, Lenz is a 5’11” and 201-pound undrafted free agent (2013) out of Iowa State who is quietly making a name for himself at camp. He has been making plays all camp and at the team’s scrimmage, impressing coaches and media members alike along the way. But one of Browns leaders, Donte Whitner, specifically has taken notice of the youngster.
Whitner stated, “He’s been a guy that came in, and you barely ever hear him speak. He’s a guy that’s always working, and he made a lot of big plays out there (Friday) … The (Colts) ended up letting him go, but he’s making a really, really good impression on his teammates and the coaching staff.” If Lenz is getting noticed by a veteran Pro Bowler like Whitner, let’s just say he should be on your radar tomorrow night.
Who is Going to Stand Out at Tight End?
After Jordan Cameron bolted in free agency, the biggest question on everyone’s mind was—who will replace him? Coming back from 2014 are veterans Gary Barnidge and Jim Dray, but the Browns did not feel they were enough to have on the roster. Instead, the Browns signed Rob Housler in free agency, drafted Randall Telfer from USC and signed undrafted free agent E.J. Bibbs to a contract.
Heading into the first preseason game, Barnidge is the clear-cut leader at the position, but after that there is a major gap. Bibbs has impressed people, Housler is dropping passes, Telfer is out injured until the middle of the year and Dray has been pretty quiet. With reviews like that, preseason games are going to be big for all of the tight ends on the roster.
Really focus in on the Bibbs versus Housler battle tomorrow night. Bibbs’ versatility as a blocker, receiver and reserve fullback could win him the nod unless Housler finally flips the switch. Housler was brought in to be a pass-catching tight end, and the only way he makes the roster is if he does just that this preseason.
Can the Browns Revamped Line Stop the Run?
After a pathetic showing against the run in 2014, the front office certainly had a commitment to stopping it this offseason. The team signed veteran Randy Starks, used a high first-round pick on Danny Shelton and added Xavier Cooper later in the draft as well. With Phil Taylor back from injury, Desmond Bryant and John Hughes ready to go—this unit should be as deep as it ever was in 2015.
Unfortunately for Browns fans, that is exactly what we heard last year about this unit. Then before fans knew it, the line was decimated by injuries—forcing rotational players into high snap percentages each game. And as we all know, things did not work out well for the unit as they were gashed for big plays all season.
In the first preseason game, the Browns will face two bruising backs in Alfred Morris and rookie, Matt Jones. This means the revamped unit will be tested early and often on Thursday night. With Shelton’s ability to push at the point of attack, look for the line to have a lot of opportunities for tackles for a loss—and hopefully a small yards per-carry average as well.
At the end of the day, many will focus on Josh McCown versus Johnny Manziel but there are so many other things to watch in game one of the preseason. If the Browns can come out of it with at least stopping the run all night, this writer will be very happy no matter the final score.