Team has a plethora of receivers, dearth of linemen and kickers
Sunday’s win over the Indianapolis Colts did not assuage as many fears in Browns fans as it should have. The Browns won 21-18 with, essentially, the second and third teams playing most of the game. The second preseason game is designed to give better looks and reps to the depth of a football team. Much to the dismay of the average fan, this means players who they pay high prices for will be in sweats on the sidelines. (Odell Beckham Jr. was out for hip soreness, while most of the other stars, honestly, did not need to play in this game.)
The debate on the value of the preseason to the fans is a debate for another day. What is up for debate is which receivers to keep, or hide, on the roster, and whether or not General Manager John Dorsey needs to scour the cut lists of other teams for a right guard and a placekicker.
Anyone concerned about the second level of offensive players on this Browns team should feel better after this game. The first preseason game, a 30-10 victory over The Washington Redskins, showed the scary potential the starters can bring. With surgical precision, starters Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb and Rashard Higgins scored the first touchdown on a drive that amounted to a two-minute drill practice. Understandably, there is a reason why the presumptive starters on offense did not play in this game: it was not necessary for them to do so. Even thirty-five-year-old, eight-year veteran Drew Stanton did not get in the game, because this experience, combined with his four-year college career at Michigan State University, should be plenty of evidence that he will be fine.
Enter Garrett Gilbert. Correct, THE Garrett Gilbert, erstwhile and presumptive Most Valuable Player for the Orlando Apollos of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football. Even though Gilbert has not been in the league as long as Stanton, he does not have as many significant snaps as Stanton. This was an opportunity for Gilbert to prove that his time in Orlando was not hype or a fluke, and he rose to the occasion.
Gilbert went 13 of his 19 attempts for 151 yards and two touchdowns. He earned a 127.3 quarterback rating for the game. Gilbert spread the ball out to four different players, wide receivers Rashard Higgins, Jaelen Strong and D.J. Montgomery, as well as running back D’Ernest Johnson.
Gilbert, ironically, is from the same high school as Mayfield, Lake Travis, TX, and considered Mayfield to be the “annoying little brother” who pestered the team as a middle schooler.
Even fourth string QB David Blough got into the act. He played the entire second half, making a strong case for Cleveland to carry four QBs. He ended the day seven of twelve for seventy-four yards and a touchdown strike to Derrick Willies. Granted, both QBs played against their equivalent levels, but Gilbert and Blough showed enough competence and confidence during their opportunities to make Cut Down Day difficult for Dorsey and Kitchens.
Willies was not the only receiver looking good lately. The receiving corps is swelling with talent as well taking away OBJ and Landry. Another camper turning heads has been Montgomery, who had three catches for 77 yards, including a big 32 yarder that set up a score. Receivers like Montgomery, Willies, and Jaelen Strong (catches for fourteen yards and a touchdown), whose signing so long ago is almost an afterthought, are almost an embarrassment of riches for the Browns. They might be the only thing keeping the starting receivers honest.
The biggest frustrations from the night came from the excessive penalties, which Kitchens explicitly pointed out, and the mysteries surrounding the starting right guard and kicker. For years, The Browns have prided themselves on having good-to-Pro-Bowl caliber linemen and All Pro kickers. Now, the team’s former biggest strengths have become its biggest weaknesses. Second year Guard Austin Corbett has not been separating himself from the rest of the pack as quickly as the coaches hoped, which is why Dorsey signed Eric Kush, Bryan Witzmann, and Kyle Kalis in the hopes of pushing Corbett. Rookie Drew Forbes is showing flashes of potential, but he is still a way away. The team is also desperately seeking to solidify the “swing lineman” position. Of course, one cannot happen without the other.
Placekicking has also been a depressing subject. Initially, the team reported kicker Greg Joseph was improving, until he shanked another field goal. Meanwhile, Mayfield’s former teammate, Rookie draft pick Austin Seibert did no better, missing a field goal himself. While they (barely) made their extra points, this embarrassing predicament had Browns fans asking aloud if recently retired All-Pro Kicker Phil Dawson (who retired as a Brown) has a few more kicks left in him.
Kitchens knows he needs to find any edge to keep the team sharp. He is old-school enough to hold them accountable. He will be sure to appreciate the win, yet he will sell his team on the need to be stronger at all positions and all facets of the game. Dorsey will undoubtedly scout other teams this week to find the talent he needs to fill the holes, like recently letting Tight End Orson Charles go and immediately signing Former Dallas Cowboy Tight End Rico Gathers. With the “dress rehearsal” game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Friday, the Browns will hopefully find their balance very soon.
Sources: Matthew Florjancic of wkyc.com and clevelandbrowns.com