Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 8/8/13
Woooooo! It’s football season in Cleveland. Not really, it’s just a preseason game where the few starters who will play might see one quarter of action. You know what it actually is, though? Baseball season, that’s what! Seriously, head to Progressive Field for the Indians game instead of watching this farce of a football contest in person. Maybe DVR it instead. The Indians need you more than the Browns third-stringers do. Hey, why is no one listening to me?!? The Browns do have what I suppose a desperate man might call a football game tonight. Will it be interesting? Probably not unless you’re one of those nuts who obsesses over who’s going to make the Browns practice squad. Will it be well attended? You bet it will be! Anyway, let’s preview this glorified practice. The Opponent St. Louis Rams (2012: 7-8-1, 3rd in NFC West, missed playoffs) The Rams record last season was as close as you can be to a .500 team without actually being a .500 team. Seriously, think about it. No, I didn’t know they were that mediocre either. I vaguely remember them tying the eventual NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers, but I honestly thought they went something like 5-10-1. Good for them for exceeding my retrospective expectations, I guess. Will Sam Bradford find any reliable targets amongst the Rams new pass catchers? (Simon Bruty/SI) Sam Bradford is still the quarterback. While he was listed on Sports Illustrated’s All-Underrated Team, it’s unclear who he’s going to throw the ball to. His top returning receivers are….(scanning the roster)…(still looking)…Chris Givens and Austin Pettis. I remember Pettis from his Boise State days, but don’t feel alone if you’re wondering who those guys are. Brandon Gibson left for Miami in the offseason. The Rams did draft two receivers from West Virginia, Tavon Austin (7th overall) and Stedman Bailey (92nd overall), who were very productive catching passes from Geno Smith in college. While small – Austin is just 5’8” and 174 lbs., while Bailey is not much bigger at 5’10”, 193 – these two can absolutely fly. You could call this wideout duo the fastest tandem to ever (eventually) step foot on an NFL field and you might not be that crazy. Bradford does have some effective targets at tight end. The Rams will line up Jared Cook, who was signed away from Tennessee after the Titans declined to put the franchise tag on him this offseason. He has been labeled as a potential fantasy sleeper each of the last two season, but he seems to still be slumbering. Maybe this is the year he finally awakens. The Rams also have third-year tight end Lance Kendricks, a 2011 draft pick out of Wisconsin, who has shown some flashes in catching 70 passes over his first two seasons. Ever heard of Daryl Richardson? You know, the second-year player out of Abilene Christian? Yeah, me neither, but somehow he is the Rams starting running back. Expect Bradford to chuck it a lot this year unless Richardson shocks everyone and proves himself to be a reliable starting running back. Ohioans might also remember Isaiah Pead, a running back out of the University of Cincinnati, who is the current backup for the Rams. On the line, Jake Long is the name to know at left tackle. While not on Joe Thomas’s level, the sixth-year man out of Michigan is surely one of the league’s top five or 10 blindside protectors. It will be interesting to see how the Browns revamped pass rush does on his side. Barrett Jones, a mauler from Alabama drafted in the fourth round this year, will also see time for the Rams. Jones is very versatile, starting two seasons at right guard, one at left tackle, and one at center for the Crimson Tide teams that won three BCS Championships during his tenure. He is currently listed as the second-string left guard, but I bet he earns a starting spot somewhere on the Rams line this season. The St. Louis defense is also anchored by an end named Long. Chris Long has established himself as a top defensive end in the NFL, albeit one who flies under the radar. If he matches up against Joe Thomas it will be a battle of heavyweights. I’d almost rather see him test Browns right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. Let’s see how far the kid has come along since his impressive rookie season. Former Buckeye great James Laurinaitis guides the Rams defense at middle linebacker. He has not matched his Ohio State accomplishments since entering the pros, but he has started all 64 games in his four seasons. He is flanked by St. Louis’s 2013 first-round pick, outside linebacker Alec Ogletree from Georgia. The Rams play a base 4-3 defense, so don’t expect a ton of Ogletree blitzes, but it will be interesting to see if Jordan Cameron can get separation from the rookie, something he has struggled with thus far in training camp. In the secondary, the Rams start two recognizable names at corner in Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins. Finnegan, who left Tennessee after six successful seasons, signed a five-year, $50 million ($27 million guaranteed) deal with the Rams prior to last season. He again put up impressive numbers (101 total tackles, eight pass breakups, a forced fumble, and three interceptions – including one he took back for a touchdown) and should provide a tough matchup for either Greg Little or Josh Gordon. Jenkins, who began his college career at Florida before transferring to North Alabama following his dismissal from the Gators team for marijuana possession, was drafted by the Rams in the 2012 second round. In his rookie season, he made 74 tackles, broke up 14 passes, and scored four defensive touchdowns – three off of interceptions and one on a recovered fumble. On special teams, the man to watch is Greg Zuerlein. Last year as a rookie he was given the nicknames “Legatron” and “Greg the Leg” to distinguish him from the retired American ice dancer of the same name. Just kidding, he earned those monikers for the seven field goals of 50 plus yards (including one 60-yarder) he booted as a rookie. He actually set the record for most 50-yard field goal attempts in one season with 13. Cross your fingers that you get to see him try a long one tonight. The Rams are coached by Jeff Fisher, who enters his second year with the team. Browns To Watch Brandon Weeden: Watch him because he’s the quarterback and he will have the ball on every offensive play. He will also have to face two skilled cornerbacks in the aforementioned Finnegan and Jenkins. As Weeden himself said, “[I want to] string together consecutive good plays, string together a couple of good drives, just get the feel of the game.” If he can do just that tonight, I will be happy. Dion Lewis will start at running back and has a great opportunity to build on his strong training camp. (Mark Duncan/AP Photo) Dion Lewis: With Trent Richardson and Montario Hardesty being held out of this game, Lewis gets the start at tailback. If he can translate his training camp success to the game field, he should vault ahead of Hardesty into the backup running back spot on the next depth chart. Chris Ogbonnaya: He will start at fullback. Will the strides he has made in his transition from running back hold when he’s blocking guys in different colored jerseys? Davone Bess: Bess and Weeden have developed the beginnings of a solid rapport in training camp. It would be nice to see the former Dolphin pick up a few key third-down catches tonight as he has been doing his whole career. (The Browns can actually thank the Rams for Bess, who became expendable in Miami after the Dolphins signed former Ram Brandon Gibson.) Jordan Cameron: His training camp has been underwhelming to this point. A few catches tonight would do wonders for both his own confidence as well as the coaching staff’s confidence in his ability to be an effective starting tight end. Jason Pinkston and John Greco: Shawn Lauvao will sit this game out with the ankle injury he suffered during Tuesday’s practice, so these two are your starting guards. Greco looks to be a starter after he was given a new long-term contract. He originally staked his claim to a starting spot last season while filling in for Pinkston, who was sidelined with blood clots. Can Pinkston do the same with his opportunity while Lauvao recovers? Barkevious Mingo: It’s his first NFL (sort of) game, as well as his first game at outside linebacker. Add that to the fact that he might face a stud tackle in Jake Long, and this game could be a tough one for Mingo. Let’s hope he can show some of the ability he has been flashing thus far in camp. Chris Owens and Buster Skrine: These two are still battling for the starting cornerback job opposite Joe Haden. Both have plus speed, which they’ll need when facing Rams burners like Austin and Bailey. Will one of them make a statement and see his name listed by itself as the starter on the next depth chart? Johnson Bademosi: The second-year player will start at strong safety in place of T.J. Ward, who won’t play. He is also still in the competition for the starting free safety spot with Tashaun Gipson (who will start in this game). Ward will be the starting strong safety, but a strong game could help Bademosi tighten the battle with Gipson for the other safety spot. Shayne Graham and Brandon Bogotay: The kicker battle rages on! It’s still possible the Browns keep both guys on their roster, but I’d love to see Bogotay nail a few field goals, making the older, weaker-legged Graham expendable. Spencer Lanning and T.J. Conley: Just kidding. They’re both punters. One will make the team. Hopefully whichever one Chris Tabor chooses won’t suck. Rob Chudzinski: It’s his first game as a head coach. He has announced that Norv Turner will be calling plays this season, freeing him to focus on in-game management. While I would never pretend that a preseason win or loss means anything, it would be nice to see a tight game that allows Chud to practice some clock management and late game decision making. I don’t think it’s possible that he could be as bad in those facets as Pat Shurmur, but we won’t know until we see him do it. Other Browns Notes In addition to Trent Richardson (shin), Montario Hardesty, Shawn Lauvao (ankle), and T.J. Ward (hamstring), a number of other Browns won’t play tonight. Rookie CB Leon McFadden (groin), WR David Nelson (knee), FB Brad Smelley, OL Ryan Miller (concussion), OL Oniel Cousins, and DL Chris Faulk will be held out. It’s the first preseason game, so no need to panic; many of these decisions are strictly precautionary. The team issued a statement urging fans to arrive at least 30 minutes prior to the 8:00 PM scheduled kickoff in order to make it to their seats in time. The Indians game at 7:05 and construction on East 9th Street will both slow the flow of traffic and could delays for fans trying to get down to FirstEnergy Stadium. Yes, it’s finally (fake) football season in Cleveland. Everyone, myself included, is excited, but again I urge fans to head to the Indians game instead. The Tribe are fighting for their playoff lives and need all the support they can get as they attempt to salvage the last game against the Detroit Tigers, who they are chasing in the AL Central. The Browns game, meanwhile, will be decided largely by players who won’t be on the team a month from now. Head to Progressive Field and record the Browns game. Parts of it will surely look better in fast-forward anyway. Related Handicapping the Cleveland Browns running back competition Cleveland Browns training camp news and notes: First depth chart released

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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