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Sobo's Musings on the Cleveland Browns first pre-season contest

Observations on the Browns

The start of preseason required a change of pace. An actual game being played—albeit an exhibition contest—provides context and some clues to the direction of the Cleveland Browns under new head coach Hue Jackson.

The Browns lost 17–11 to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, but the result is inconsequential at this point in the process. What’s truly important is seeing how individuals performed when facing an opponent wearing a different colored jersey.

Only so much can be achieved during practice sessions. Game situations start to separate those players who can make a legitimate impact from those who will be out of the league in less than a month. Of course, it’s only one game, but it’s a constant evaluation.

The foundation is being laid on a series-by-series basis, and this became blatantly obviously during the Browns’ preseason opener.

  1. A different level of energy emanated from this year’s draft picks compared to the rest of the roster. For example, the difference between the first- and second-string defensive lines was absolutely staggering. What created this difference? Something as simple as firing off the ball on a consistent basis. Watch as Carl Nassib and Emmanuel Ogbah worked their way into the backfield with good first steps and quickness off the snap then compare those first-year defensive linemen to Danny Shelton and Nick Hayden. The two rookies might not have much of a clue what they’re doing at this point, but they’re not sitting back and letting the blocks overwhelm them. Yes, Nassib and Ogbah primarily played against the Packers’ second and third units, but an aggressive approach can make a legitimate difference for the entire defense.

  2. If one were to name the best Browns player on the field Friday, Nassib would win the award hands down. His length, first-step quickness and consistent motor really made him stand out from every other performer. More importantly, he did so while not serving in the role of a traditional edge defender like he did during his time with the Penn State Nittany Lions. A major concern arose when Desmond Bryant suffered a season-ending pectoral injury, because the Browns lack interior pass-rushers. Nassib appeared very comfortable playing from both a 4i and 3-technique. If he continues to show growth in this particular area, he could be the team’s answer at defensive tackle in certain nickel and dime sub-packages.

  3. Ogbah played a lot, and his motor ran hot from start to finish. In his first pass-rush attempt, the Oklahoma State Cowboys product created interior pressure which resulted in a holding call. The rookie was still on the field in the fourth quarter and tried to run down plays 10–20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. This is the type of effort and play becomes contagious. The first-year defensive end might not be a polished product—he needs to work on secondary pass-rush moves to disengage from blocks—but his level of athleticism stood out when watching the film. Both he and Nassib looked like different animals compared to their teammates.

  4. The combination of Hayden and Shelton struggled against the Packers first-team offense, and this might be an understatement. The duo only played during the first series, but Green Bay ran the ball eight out of 13 times and averaged 4.75 yards per carry. Some of the same issues seen with Shelton last season remained apparent. While losing weight should help, he continues to play too high and struggles when asked to work laterally down the line. These are areas to watch as the preseason progresses. Hayden, meanwhile, struggles at the point of attack. He’s a lunch pail defender who is asked to do the dirty work, but he’s not strong against the run. It’s difficult to envision him as a consistent presence at 5-technique if he can’t hold his ground.

  5. What will the Browns offense like season? Cody Kessler’s touchdown pass to Rashard Higgins is a very good indication of things to come. The play was a basic RPO (run-pass option). When going back to the film, the entire offensive line and tight end fired off the ball to run block. Instead of handing off the ball, the rookie signal-caller noticed presnap Higgins faced one-on-one coverage. Kessler never attempted the handoff. Instead, he took advantage of the situation with a perfectly placed back-shoulder throw. These plays can backfire, though. When the rookie quarterback got blindsided in the fourth quarter, it appeared to be left tackle Erle Ladson fault. It wasn’t. Kessler saw similar coverage as the touchdown pass and decided to throw. Unfortunately, the entire line fired off the ball and Ladson took a bucket step to wall off the backside—which gave the edge rusher a free run to the quarterback. The lineman did his job; the quarterback didn’t have enough time due to a poor presnap decision.

  6.  Robert Griffin III’s play became a hotly debated topic, too. The interception he threw at the 1-yard line was entirely the quarterback’s fault. It wasn’t a case of miscommunication like some intimated. The ball never should have been thrown in Gary Barnidge’s direction. RG3 did two things incorrectly: He didn’t make the proper safety read and compounded the problem by staring down his intended target. The first indication of it being a poor throw came from watching Micah Hyde’s alignment. The Packers safety lined up in what appeared to be a Cover 2 shell. As soon as Barnidge worked his way up the seam, the defensive back automatically opened his hips toward the inside. This should tell the quarterback the out-breaking route from the trips set wouldn’t have coverage over the top, and it didn’t. Rannell Hall created some separation on the post-corner route and became the right read based on the safety’s reaction. Instead, Griffin continued to stare at Barnidge and delivered the ball into double-coverage. Head coach Hue Jackson said later his quarterback “shouldn’t have thrown the ball where he did.” What should have been included in his statement is the following “…because it was the wrong read.”

  7. Right tackle has been a position of interest throughout training camp due to the uncertainty of replacing Mitchell Schwartz. Since the start of camp, Alvin Bailey, Spencer Drango and Austin Pasztor received first-team reps. Pasztor started the first preseason game, and he played relatively well. But his limitations become amplified at tackle. Let’s keep one thing in mind: Pasztor didn’t face Clay Matthews nor Julius Peppers. It’s hard to get a read how the 25-year-old blocker would hold up when he faces a legit pass-rusher. Plus, the Canadian’s overall athleticism and technique are questionable. He can hold his own at right tackle against inferior talent, but his play against the league’s best will be far more telling of his actual potential.

  8. A difference could be seen once Shon Coleman took over at right tackle, though. This recent third-round pick is clearly the most athletic option. His pass set is the most consistent and his length makes him the ideal candidate to eventually earn the starting spot. Much like Pasztor, his performance must be placed into context while playing in the second half against Green Bay’s third and fourth stringers. But Coleman’s superior physical tools compared to those he’s competing against are apparent.

  9. The role of second tight end within Jackson’s offense is often overlooked and underappreciated. Many will view Connor Hamlett’s performance as a success, because he caught a touchdown pass—even though it was called back due to a penalty. However, his blocking should garner more attention. The Oregon State product isn’t a road grader, but he has the size and technique to be a strong complementary piece opposite Gary Barnidge. If he continues to block well, he’ll see the field a lot this season. Although, the head coach loves using an athletic lineman as an extra blocker. Drango reported eligible multiple times. A week ago, the Baylor rookie started at right tackle during the team’s scrimmage, but he primarily played tight end and left tackle against the Packers. His reliability—even in his first year—might be enough to warrant an active roster spot and part-time role this season.

  10. Every preseason, one or two unheralded players who are already written off as training camp fodder play well enough to be considered for an active spot on the final 53 or the practice squad. Every Browns fan wants the team’s 14 rookies to shine or see last year’s top picks play at another level. Thus, it comes as a surprise when a defensive lineman who signed three days earlier plays really well in the first preseason game. Chigbo Anunoby is now in his fifth year after bouncing around the league between the Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings. The organization signed Anunoby to be a third nose tackle after Kyle Rose’s release. Born in England, the defensive lineman might be coming into his own after coming to the game late in life. The 316-pound nose tackle proved to be a load in the middle with the third-team defense. He fired low off the ball and consistently hustled. He now needs to stack multiple strong efforts together throughout practice and the rest of preseason. If he does so, the late signing has the potential to turn into a legitimate surprise roster inclusion.


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