Preseason has arrived for the Cleveland Browns. These next four games don't count, but at least there is tackling.
A week after the team had its game-like debut in a two-hand touch scrimmage at Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Browns travel to Green Bay for the preseason opener. The game kicks off at 8 p.m. Saturday and is televised live by Cleveland's WKYC TV 3, as well as the affiliate markets Columbus (WBNS), Dayton (WHIO) and Youngstown (WYTV).
Preseason games are boring? Preseason games don't mean anything? Not in Browns Town. As with any 5-11 team, the Browns are bursting with questions. Name a position group and there is a question. As a result, there is plenty to look for during the game, which is must-see TV for any Browns fan.
Below is a handy guide of what to look for during all four quarters of the Browns' first actual game of 2010.
Delhomme, McCoy Debuts: Jake Delhomme had 18 interceptions and eight touchdowns in 11 games last season. Concerns about Delhomme have dominated offseason discussion topics. According to coach Eric Mangini, Delhomme will play about a quarter. Meanwhile, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said his starters will play "about 20 snaps."
Last season, Green Bay's defense was ranked fifth in the NFL in pass yards allowed (203.1 yards per game) and first against the run in yards allowed (83.3). It is a great early test for Delhomme.
In the scrimmage, Delhomme was unofficially 10-for-13 passing for 73 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. Similar numbers against the Packers first team would help ease some concerns about Delhomme.
While it appears most everyone is exercising patience with Colt McCoy, no doubt his debut will be closely monitored. With all due respect to Delhomme, the Browns need to find their long-term answer at quarterback. Couch wasn't the guy. Frye wasn't the guy. Quinn wasn't the guy. Will someone please step up and be the guy?
McCoy will get his first opportunity take steps toward being the guy in the second half. McCoy will split time with Brett Ratliff.
"They will both play the second half," Mangini said. "It's just either Colt will start the third quarter or Brett will start the third quarter. Then we will probably switch it up, next time the other guy will start (according to) whatever their playing time is."
Wary of Wide Outs: The Browns may have a veteran behind center, but the wide receiving corps is chock-full of youth. According to first-hand observations, Brian Robiskie has improved following a disappointing rookie season. For now, Delhomme's targets in the passing game are tight ends and backs. Wide receivers are taking a backseat. If the offense is to do anything this season, the wide receivers need to get involved, no one more so than Robiskie.
Mohamed Massaquoi (6-foot-2, 207 pounds) and Robiskie (6-3, 209) are listed as the Browns first and second receivers. They have the size and look, but can they produce?
While it may be brief, any time Massaquoi and Robiskie are able to work against the Packers' dynamic defensive back duo of Charles Woodson and Al Harris, it should provide vital teaching lessons moving forward.
As the game continues, pay close attention Browns rookie wide out Carlton Mitchell, a player with high potential, but raw skills. Mitchell is another tall receiver (6-3) who has the ability to stretch the field, and that is a weapon every offense would like to have.
But he entered the NFL Draft a year early, according to knowledgeable scouts, so he possesses a big learning curve at the professional level. He should be seeing second-rate defenders in the second half and perhaps it will create opportunities for McCoy to look his way downfield.
Secondary Situation: The Browns secondary is one area that went through a noticeable upgrade in the offseason. Like Delhomme and the offense, they will get tested early, but unfortunately not too often.
Depending on how many snaps Aaron Rogers and the Packers' offense takes, the Browns secondary could see plenty of action. In 2009, the Packers threw for more than 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. One of the main reasons for Green Bay's success through the air is familiarity.
"For two years, Aaron Rodgers has been throwing to a corps with fairly defined roles," wrote Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn last July. "(Greg) Jennings at split end and (Donald) Driver at flanker in base, Driver in the slot in three wide, Jennings often in the slot in four wide, and both (James) Jones and (Jordy) Nelson usually playing outside."
Browns staring cornerback Eric Wright, who injured a hamstring in practice this week, might play, but the focus will be on the seventh overall pick Joe Haden. Haden will be matched up with one of those four aforementioned Packers wide receivers. Welcome to the NFL, rook.
The same goes for T.J. Ward, who Mangini has praised in the preseason. Ward was listed as a starting safety on the season's first depth chart. A high second round pick, Ward needs to be a contributor right away. Will we see signs of his abilities on Saturday?
"It's going to be good to see where they are at and I think that it will give them a very realistic look of how things work," Mangini said. "I was talking to T.J. (Ward) yesterday and I was just reminding him that it's the same game that he has been playing since Pop Warner. It's just a little bit faster and you're wearing a different color uniform."
Brandon McDonald, who was sort of the forgotten one after the Browns drafted Haden, Ward, Larry Asante and traded for veteran Sheldon Brown, made the day's biggest play at the scrimmage. Last weekend, his 40-yard interception return for a touchdown brought him back to the forefront, along with his penchant for tweeting. Currently the Browns have 13 defensive backs listed on their roster. Not all will make it, but it will be nice to see what kind of talent and depth the Browns have with their secondary.
Linebacker Depth: In a 3-4 scheme, this is position group is of vial importance and its overall talent has been lacking in recent years. As a result, so, too, has the Browns' run defense. With D'Qwell Jackson sidelined anywhere from three to eight weeks, there is belief the depth of the Browns linebacking corps will help steady the ship.
At the scrimmage, a running game was null and void because of a lack of tackling. That won't be the case on Saturday. Last season, the Browns allowed 144.6 yards rushing per game. That is down from 151.9 in 2008, but it was still toward the bottom of the league.
The linebackers need to be making plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. Newcomers Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong will be closely monitored to see if their additions can help the Browns defense slow down an opposing running game.
Green Bay's Tyrell Sutton gashed the Browns second-teamers last season for 91 yards on 15 carries in that first preseason game. Punctuating the point the Browns were bad against the run last season, the Packers placed Sutton on waivers before the start of the regular season. He was claimed by Carolina.
Running Wild: The Browns enter Saturday down a running back with Montario Hardesty's return from a tweaked knee scheduled for next week. Regardless, the team's running back stable increased during the offseason with the addition of Hardesty, Peyton Hillis and now a health James Davis. Coupled with Jerome Harrison and Chris Jennings, there is plenty to choose from when handing the ball off.
Harrison ended last season carrying the ball 106 times in the Browns' final three games, an average of 35.3 carries per game.
"Ideally, he won't have to do that unless we decide to," Mangini said.
Who will spell Harrison? Hardesty, maybe, but he's injured and won't play Saturday. James Davis was a preseason stud in 2009. Can he continue it this season and remain healthy? Hillis is a hybrid fullback/running back and Jennings may be on the outside looking in when it's all said and done.
Regardless, the Packers had the best run defense in 2009. It will be interesting to see how the Browns move the ball on the ground early. Then, as the backups enter, what can Davis and Jennings — two players perceived to be battling for that final running back spot — do when faced with lesser competition?
New Attitude?: With any new season, there is optimism. After a somewhat tumultuous offseason that saw a new team president, Mike Holmgren, retain his head coach, that head coach has taken on a different persona.
Mangini has had a different attitude and approach to things this season. He simply doesn't seem as grumpy. Players bought into his system toward the end of last season. Has that momentum continued to 2010?
You can't tell too much from a preseason game, but there are indicators. For example, how disciplined is the team?
"We're going to do it right," Mangini said. "We can't have penalties. We can't have those things. Those self-inflicted wounds, they just kill you. It's hard enough to win games and you have to start with not losing the game."
Last season, the Browns were blanked by Green Bay 17-0 in the first preseason game. Rogers had two series against the Browns and finished 5-for-10 passing for 102 yards and a touchdown. Both of his series ended with a touchdown. Meanwhile, Cleveland's offense sputtered.
If that attitude has changed, a repeat performance will not occur, and the Packers, who also beat the Browns 31-3 last October, will see a different Cleveland Browns team.
"It's like any other game, you want to win the game," Mangini said. "Even though it's preseason, you want to win the game. For me, I want to see a jump from the brown and white game. I want to see some improvement from there."