Browns-Bears Preview

Browns' backups have a final chance to turn heads in Chi-town in the year's final preseason game.

The Cleveland Browns' dreaded fourth preseason game has arrived. In tonight's game against the Chicago Bears at Solider Field, the starters are not expected to play much, if at all.

It'll be tempting to pop in that new orange and brown tinted copy of Madden 12 in lieu of watching backups of backups compete in a "NFL game."

Still, some Browns players who could provide key roles in 2011 will be on the field.

Since the Browns last took the field in Philadelphia last week, their left guard, Eric Steinbach, is lost for the season and their back-up running back, Brandon Jackson, may soon join Steinbach on injured reserve.

Bad news aside, tonight's game is a chance for a player to help himself to make this 53-man roster and help the Browns to provide much-needed depth.

What positions could the Browns benefit most from a backup of a backup stepping up? Running back, offensive line and linebacker are my three areas of concern. Let me know yours in the comments below.

Running Back

The Quinn Porter vs. Armond Smith hasn't been a pretty battle. In three games, Smith has fumbled three times, losing two, and Porter fumbled once, although the Browns did not lose possession.

"Ball security is very important no matter what your skill set is as a runner, you must secure the football," coach Pat Shurmur said earlier this week. "There were a couple of instances where he didn't do that and we've worked on it. In terms of them, they're competing, I think they're doing a good job."

When not putting the ball on the ground, Smith has the most impressive numbers: 145 yards and one touchdown on 20 carries for a 7.3 yards-per-carry average including an 81-yard touchdown run against Detroit. Meanwhile, Porter has 42 yards on 10 carries.

Both players should get plenty of touches against the Bears to have one final chance to prove they belong. If neither player performs, Browns' general manager Tom Heckert needs to get Peyton Hillis help. Montario Hardesty played last week for the first time in about a year, but the Browns still need more bodies in the backfield to take the load off Hillis and an injury-prone Hardesty.

Offensive Line

The Browns enter 2011 solidified at the tackle positions and center. It gets murky at guard. At left guard, rookie Jason Pinkston gets the first crack at replacing Steinbach while Shawn Lauvao is penciled in at right guard. Combined, those two players have started one game in the NFL.

Pinkston started last week against the Eagles and Shurmur likes his upside.

"I think he handled it pretty well," Shurmur said. "There were a couple of plays where he needs to be better and he knows why. He's like anybody in training camp now, he's working through the mistakes, but I think he's got an upside to him that I feel good about."

This is one position the Browns have been active during the offseason by adding Youngstown native John Greco via a trade from St. Louis and fourth-year pro Oniel Cousins via waivers. Finally, practice squad veteran Pat Murray rounds out the guard depth.

Somewhere among those five players are the Browns' two starting guards in 2011. Cousins, Murray and Greco could play their way into the starting lineup tonight.

Linebacker

Arguably, this is the Browns shallowest position. After starters Scott Fujita, D'Qwell Jackson and Chris Gocong, the Browns don't have much to work with. During the preseason, the Browns defense played a lot of nickel, leaving Fujita and Jackson on the field with five defensive backs. Meanwhile, Gocong (neck) has been sidelined because of injury.

Gocong's injury struggles made way for former fourth-round draft pick Kaluka Maiava to receive much needed playing time. In his third season, Maiava has typically been relegated to special teams under former coach Eric Mangini. This preseason, Maiava is tied for seventh on the team with seven tackles.

In addition, Titus Brown and Brian Smith have mixed in with the second-team linebackers and those two, along with Maiava, have made some plays easing the concerns of the thin Browns' linebacking corps.

Tonight, it would be helpful to see more of those plays being made by Maiava, Brown and Smith against the Bears second- and third-teamers. Of course, avoiding injuries will be the top priority for the entire team.

Ten days until the Browns open the 2011 season at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. Football that counts is just around the corner.


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