CLEVELAND--The Browns are coming off a lack-luster preseason opener and will play their first home game of the preseason Thursday night at 8 pm at FirstEnergy Stadium. Hue Jackson admitted there is a fine line in trying to prepare the team for the regular season and evaluating the players that will end up making up the 53-man roster.
“It can be tough because again, we’re trying to build a team but we’re also trying to evaluate our team and also trying to teach our team how to win and do things the right way," Jackson said. "At the end of the day, we know what preseason games are about. It’s about getting ready and evaluating our team and getting ready for the regular season. It can be tough, but at the same time, we kind of balance that out. There have been great discussions from our front office and the coaches, and I think we’re working through that extremely well.”
Here are five story lines to watch as the Browns take on the Falcons.
1. QB Play--Until Robert Griffin III shows he can move the offense and eliminate mistakes in Jackson's offense, the play of Griffin III and the quarterbacks will always be a focus. Griffin III had mixed reviews in the first game connecting on a deep pass to Terrelle Pryor, but threw an interception near the goal line when the Browns were in position to put points on the board. Griffin III was 4-8 for 67 yards, including an interception in just 11 snaps. His rating of 39.1 is concerning.
“It just means we as an offense and as a team have to go out and execute better," Griffin III said. "I didn’t do a good enough job of helping us put points on the board, and that’s what we want to do. That’s the name of our game. We have to go out and score points. We want to move the ball consistently, get points on the board and make sure that we’re executing the way that we know we can and what Coach has put out for us in the gameplan.”
Griffin III needs more work, but with Joe Thomas (back) not playing and two newcomers to the line, there is concern that he could take a pounding. Josh McCown is a known commodity and now with Austin Davis (concussion) sidelined, rookie Cody Kessler is in line to likely play the second half. Kessler threw a nice back shoulder touchdown pass to Rashard Higgins on his first throw, but seemed confused at times. The experience should help his development.
2, Get Running Game on Track: Jackson vowed to solve the running back dilemma that has not shown much thus far in training camp. Isaiah Crowell had just one carry for minus-two yards and Duke Johnson had one carry for 11 yards. Raheem Mostert has been given the opportunity to see if he can be more than just a special teams player. Mostert was the leading rusher in the first game with 43 yards, including a 27-yard scamper. Terrell Watson is trying to show that he can be one of the backs the Browns can utilize with his 240-pound bruising style.
Jackson talked about the running game after the loss to the Packers.
“I have a high expectation for our running game," he said. "We had a couple opportunities to make some things happen that we kind of didn’t get done. Those are the learning things that I’m talking about for our guys. They know when we try to do certain things that the opportunity is there so we just have to make sure that we follow through and execute at a high level and good things happen. As you could see on the run where Raheem broke out, we had an opportunity for that same run a little earlier in the game and we just kind of didn’t get on the proper people.
"We’ll just continue to work at it. We’ll get this solved, I promise you that.”
3. Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib--Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib were drafted in the second- and third-rounds to improve the Browns pass rush and ability to stop the run. Both players showed promise in the first game as the two combined for the Browns only two sacks. Ogbah had six tackles, two tackles for loss to lead the defense, while Nassib had three tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss. The Browns need both players to continue to improve.
4. Jamar Taylor--With DB K'Waun Williams suspended for two weeks and his future in doubt with the Browns, Taylor will have a chance to prove he should be the starting nickel back. Taylor is getting a fresh start after being traded to the Browns on draft day after a disappointing career with the Dolphins after being a second-round draft pick. Undrafted free agents Tracey Howard and Eric Patterson have a chance to continue to make their case to make the roster.
5. Young Wide Receivers-- With Corey Coleman (hamstring) likely to play little, if at all and WR Josh Gordon (quad) not playing, WR Terrelle Pryor should get more reps at receiver as he continues to make the transition to being a legitimate weapon in the passing game. It also will be a chance for the young wide receivers to show what they have. WR Rashard Higgins caught a touchdown pass in the first game, but didn't play a lot. WR Jordan Payton played just one offensive snap. WR Ricardo Louis played six offensive snaps, but he hurt his leg earlier this week and missed practice.
O-Line--The offensive line needs to blend as a unit, particularly with Cameron Erving at center and Austin Pasztor at right tackle. Jackson says the group needs to play together, but with Thomas (back) out it will be harder to do so. Erving needs to continue to grow quickly at the position or the Browns will have to go to plan B and possibly move John Greco to center. Watch Shon Coleman and Spencer Drango to see how they perform in their second games.