BEREA, Ohio—In the NFL, the third preseason game is known as the ‘dress rehearsal.' Most teams use the game as their final tune up before the regular season. For the Browns, that means keep an eye on who plays the majority of the first half and that will give you a good indication as to who will be playing against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 12.
That also means the final preseason game on Sept. 2 against the Bears will be played predominantly by players who will be released in the final roster cut downs on Sept. 4 when the Browns must reduce their roster from 75 players to 53.
Some interesting battles are still ongoing for starting positions, as well as roster spots. Here are some of the biggest ones to watch for in the final two preseason games.
Right tackle/guard: Tony Pashos was the odds on favorite entering training camp when the Browns went out and signed him as an unrestricted free agent. However, a bout of food poisoning and a shoulder ailment kept him sidelined for most of training camp. He returned to the practice field this week and is expected to play against the Lions. With John St. Clair missing this week and most likely the Lions game has hurt his cause, not only for being a starter, but making the final roster. Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack had a good chance to be the right guard or tackle. If Womack lost the battle at right guard to Shawn Lauvao, he could've been moved out to tackle. However, he also is on the sideline with a knee injury.
As long as Pashos can stay on the field, he should end up as the starter. Pay attention to how he plays in his first action of the preseason. It looks as though the right guard position is Lauvao's to lose. Billy Yates is trying to unseat Lauvao and is trying to also show he can be the backup center.
Running Back: Jerome Harrison seems to be the favorite to start the season as the primary running back with the injury to Montario Hardesty. Peyton Hillis showed he could push for playing time by his play in the first two preseason games. Hardesty has a chance to play in the final preseason game to show if he is able to contribute right away in the regular season. James Davis and Chris Jennings are most likely battling for a final roster spot and their special teams play might determine the outcome.
Cornerback: Most likely Joe Haden will start the season as the third cornerback behind Eric Wright and Sheldon Brown. Haden is trying to continue his development and become a prominent member of the Browns secondary. Behind the aforementioned three, will Brandon McDonald or Gerard Lawson be the fourth cornerback or will the Browns settle on Mike Adams in that role.
Punter: Keep an eye on Reggie Hodges' punting. With the season-ending injury to Dave Zastudil, Hodges appears to have the punting job, but if he doesn't continue to do a good job, the Browns might be scouring the final cuts of other teams to see if there might be an upgrade at the position.
Linebacker: Will David Veikune show on the field as much progress as Mangini said he has made in the off-season or is he battling for his life on the roster as he's currently listed on the third team on the depth chart behind Kaluka Maiava. Eric Barton is listed as the starter on the inside with D'Qwell Jackson out. Will the Browns keep a 12-year veteran coming off neck surgery or turn things over to the younger players. If Veikune and Maiava have made as much strides inside as the coaches have said, it seems that Barton would be expendable.
Tight End: Besides Ben Watson, the battle for backup tight ends seems to be between Robert Royal and Alex Smith. Evan Moore has been featured prominently in the passing game and seems to be counted on to play this year. The question remains if the Browns keep three or even four tight ends. Most likely they'll keep three and it comes down to Royal or Smith.
Third Quarterback: Colt McCoy and Brett Ratliff might not be on the field a lot in the Lions game, but if they are the duo are likely battling for the third quarterback role. Barring something monumental, McCoy should stick on the final roster. The question is do the Browns keep a fourth quarterback. Eric Mangini said the two will most likely play the majority of the final preseason game with the Bears.