So they say preseason doesn't matter. Tell that to players like Brandon Weeden, Travis Benjamin, Josh Gordon, Mitchell Schwartz and James-Michael Johnson. Those Cleveland Browns rookies begin their assimilation to NFL game action when on Friday the team travels to Ford Field to play the Detroit Lions.
Friday's game comes on the heels of an eventful couple of weeks. A few days after the Browns were sold to Jimmy Haslam, news broke Wednesday on two fronts: starting corner back Joe Haden could be suspended four games because of a failed drug test and rookie running back Trent Richardson flew south to get his surgically repaired knee scoped.
Just another typical August in Brownstown, eh?
Richardson is among the Browns' substantial rookie haul in 2012. Among the aforementioned players, they are all expected to see significant playing time in 2012.
Practice has been good for these rookies, but nothing compares to the speed of an actual NFL game, even if it is a preseason game.
Last Saturday, Johnson talked about how the speed of the training camp practices are noticeably different than his time in college. With all due respect to Johnson and his competition for a starting outside linebacker, most eyes will be fixed on Weeden on Friday. On Monday, Weeden was named Browns starting quarterback for 2012. Another training camp, another new quarterback, eh?
"I didn't take the approach that it was going to be my job from day one," Weeden said. "I think this league is too tough."
"I wanted to show that I was the best guy out there to give this team a chance to win. Like I said, I've busted my tail. I spent a lot of late hours and long nights studying that playbook and getting ready to come to practice the next day. Fortunately it paid off, but like I said the work doesn't stop there."
Weeden and the rest of the starters are expected to play a quarter. If you have been to a practice in Berea, you've seen Weeden's arm and his penchant for firing the ball downfield. At times it has looked pretty, but Friday adds a new wrinkle: The Lions' defensive line will be looking to take his head off. Last season, Cliff Avril (LE), Corey Williams (DT), Ndamukong Suh (DT) and Kyle Vanden Bosch (RE) combined for 25 of the Lions' 41 sacks.
On the other side, the Browns' defensive front four is young and banged up. Last year's first round pick, defensive tackle Phil Taylor (torn pectoral) is not expected back soon. Although defensive tackle Ahytba Rubin is back from his own injury, Johnson isn't the only rookie expected to contribute for the Browns' defense. John Hughes and Billy Winn have seen numerous training camp snaps with the first-team defensive line.
"I wouldn't paint them both into a run stopper or pass rusher box yet," Shurmur said. "Just because (Hughes) is physical enough to stop the run doesn't mean he can't generate pass rush. Like Billy Winn, just because he's got quickness doesn't mean he can't play the run. Those are at first glance what they're attributes are. Now they need to develop into total players based on what they're good at."
To be fair, preseason results ultimately doesn't matter. The last time the Browns played in Detroit, Jake Delhomme finished 20-for-25 with 152 yards and a touchdown. In last year's Great Lakes Classic at Cleveland, Colt McCoy was 10-for-18 for 96 yards and three touchdowns.
"We're looking for (Weeden) to go out there and execute and be generally efficient," Shurmur said. "And then take a lead of that huddle and direct us in to the end zone."
"Nobody is going to play the whole game, what you want is to go in and be generally efficient. You don't want penalties, you want to get lined up right, not too many men in the huddle, you want to see the quarterback be able to call the play, execute. It's the same thing on defense, get lined up properly, defeat the blocks, address the gaps, tackle the ball carrier and when they drop back to pass, I want to see come pass rush."