BEREA, Ohio – Thursday night’s preseason opener is big for the Cleveland Browns because it’s the home “game” debut for a new owner, a new staff, a bunch of new players and a new product all involved hope is on its way to NFL relevance.
One step at a time. But an early preseason cameo is more a necessary evil than any kind of real step, and with the Browns needing second-year running back Trent Richardson to be at the forefront of many impending steps, there’s no reason to do anything with Richardson on Thursday night vs. the Rams than keep him on the sideline.
Richardson has been a little bit banged up, plays a violent style of football and plays full speed, all of the time. There’s no need for him to be put in a spot to take on some second-string linebacker from Abilene Christian in early to mid-August, even if that’s linebacker that will actually get the worst of the meeting.
Preseason football is generally a bad product. At best, it’s an opportunity for coaches to fine-tune communication issues and game-week installation. With 90 guys on rosters at this point, these games are a key evaluation point for second and third-team players, and not just with their current teams. There is not, however, one thing that’s going to happen in any preseason game over the next 10-13 days that’s going to push any team from the land of 4-5 wins to the playoffs.
The only way an early August preseason game has ever shifted a season or set any kind of tone is when a key player has been hurt.
The Browns don’t need to play scared with Richardson. They do need to play smart, and keeping him out of preseason piles is both smart and should really be a non-story.
Richardson is the Browns most important player. If he has the season he appears capable of having, the quarterback will be better for it, the defense will be better for it and the Browns will be in games all the way into the final stages of the fourth quarter, which in an unpredictable and competitive league is about all a young and growing team can ask for.
Richardson missing the entire preseason last year wasn’t ideal, but it happened. Missing practices and on-field reps was a much bigger deal than missing 12-15 preseason carries. This year, he’s been in practice all but a few days. He’s keeping up with everything, and he looks great — bigger, stronger, faster, the whole deal.
On Monday, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said he hasn’t decided if Richardson will play Thursday. Here’s a guess it won’t be one of those decisions that keeps him up at night.
If Richardson becomes that true franchise/feature back, that leaves fewer chances for the running backs behind him.
Which makes those guys earning their chances even more important.
While newcomer Dion Lewis has made a few “wow” plays with his speed and shiftiness in the open field, Chris Ogboyanna has drawn notice for playing fullback. Yes, fullback.
Ogboyanna is listed at 6-foot, 225, and has never really been a fullback before. But it remains unclear if the Browns have a true fullback, and Ogoboyanna has proven that he’s the type of guy who would go in at nose tackle if his coaches ask him to. He’s caught a bunch of passes in the flats in this camp, and he’s not afraid to stick his nose in and pass protect when he’s needed to.
Everything is still pretty new in this camp, something that gives maximum effort, pay-their-dues guys like Ogboyanna a chance to create a role over guys who may have more pure talent or be higher on a meaningless preseason depth chart.
The Browns have zero certainty at the tight end position. At wide receiver, it appears that Davone Bess can be trusted and the rest remains unsettled. If playing multiple running backs and/or an unconvential fullback can help the Browns create something in the passing game, create matchup issues and keep defenses guessing, then that lineup should get to play.
Said Chudzinski: “(Ogboyanna) is a guy that can play multiple positions. Sometimes it is hard to put those guys in two different spots, but that is just where we put him from a depth-chart standpoint. The thing about depth charts is that they don’t always tell the story about roles. There are a lot of roles on teams that you need that aren’t necessarily covered on a depth chart. A guy that appears somewhere on a depth chart as a third-teamer is the first-teamer in some sort of role or situation when you play a game and certainly Ogbonnaya is a very valuable part of what we are doing.”
He looks like a guy who can help the offense, and it’s Chudzinski’s job to get those guys on the field. Consistently doing that would be a refreshing change, right?