CLEVELAND – The best thing that’s happened to the Cleveland Browns in two weeks is coach Mike Pettine getting word from the medical staff that cornerback Buster Skrine should be cleared from his thumb surgery in time to play in the Sept. 7 season opener.
The Browns have been bad on the field. Off the field, Thursday brought the official verdict that Josh Gordon is suspended for the entire 2014 season.
Because Pettine named a starting quarterback after two preseason games and the starting offense didn’t score a touchdown until the third preseason game, the starters will play a little bit Thursday night in the preseason finale. The trend around the NFL has been to sit all or most starters in this, the fourth and most meaningless of the meaningless games.
Except the Browns need to play. The defensive starters will play, too, after laying an egg last weekend.
The Chicago Bears aren’t expected to play any starters, so the Browns should see opportunity.
The preseason will soon be forgotten. The Browns need some positives as they point toward Sept. 7, even if those positives come against backups.
"They need to play, and that’s one of the reasons why we weren’t content to just kind of pack things up and say, ‘Hey, we’ll be ready for Pittsburgh,’" Pettine said. "There’s a risk, but we feel the reward is bigger for playing on Thursday night…to get more repetitions together."
The Browns are a work in progress, to be kind, and they know they need to see progress. The best thing that happens for any team in the preseason is that the preseason ends, and that’s especially true for the Browns.
The real games haven’t started yet. Things can get better. The bar, too, is pretty low.
"I think, after watching the film, there are obviously some good things that we put out there," quarterback Brian Hoyer said. "We just have to keep improving on those and the areas that weren’t so great. We really need to step up our game because the regular season is (coming). It’s coming fast so the things that we’re doing well, we need to continue to do well and the things that we’re not doing so well, we need to figure out what we need to get done and come together as a unit and do better."
The final preseason game is generally about reps for young players and one final chance for players on the bubble to impress. Thursday night’s game has that, too, with Johnny Manziel expected to play at least a quarter in relief of Hoyer and several roster situations remaining unsettled.
The most notable name to watch is Nate Burleson, the veteran wide receiver who’s missed the entire preseason due to injury. The Browns also have backup jobs to be claimed along both lines and in the secondary.
The Browns have 75 players on the roster. By Saturday, all 32 teams must cut their rosters to 53.
There’s still a lot of movement to come. The Browns might have more questions than most teams, but there is time to solve at least a few of them.
The best part of the preseason is that it ends tonight. And it’s always quickly forgotten.