Aug 26, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon (12) celebrates with quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) after he scored a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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The Cleveland Browns head into their fourth and final preseason exhibition tomorrow night against the Chicago Bears here in Cleveland. This is the final dress rehearsal before the games start to count. Most fans ignore this game, viewing it as the most useless of all four preseason games. However, knowing what to watch for will help the informed fan enjoy what is usually the most exciting game of the preseason.
The fourth preseason game is the “Replacement Bowl.” Some may remember the movie “The Replacements,” starring Keanu Reeves as Shane Falco, a washed up quarterback from Ohio State who never seemed to get his NFL career on track. He and a group of misfit players band together to create a moment of glory that will define their lives. Along the way they learned to bond, line dance and sing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
Likewise, for the Browns and 31 other NFL teams, the fourth preseason game is the night where players who have nothing to lose leave everything on the field. All their dreams and hopes come down to this one game. With all this in mind, let us examine what to watch for in the tomorrow night’s game.
Jan 3, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell (34) runs past a tackle fromPittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt (91) during the first quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Steelers defeated the Browns 28-12. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
On the offensive side of the ball, it will be interesting to see what kind of offense takes the field. Hue Jackson came to Cleveland having ran a West Coast short passing attack complimented by the power run game. However, in the preseason, the Browns have primarily relied on the long ball to score. Sustained time-consuming drives, a staple of the West Coast system, have been few and far between.
The Browns will be playing their starters in this game. Watch to see what type of offense the Browns choose to work on. The outside screen game still needs a lot of work. The plays out of the All-11 formation need work as well. Watch to see if there is a more deliberate attempts to establish the running game early to set up the play action and deep passing game.
One of the major issues in the fourth preseason game is organization. This game will be played by people who have not been taking a majority of the reps in camp. There will be a certain level of dysfunctionality on field. But they should not be as bad as Shane Falco’s crew.
There are plenty of questions to be answered in this preseason game.
Who will stick as the backup offensive linemen? Dan France got first team reps last week but showed that he has a lot of room to improve. Spencer Drango and Shon Coleman looked good. Watch to see if they get more reps this game.
Wide receivers will be interesting to watch. Ricardo Louis and Jordan Payton are on the bubble. Can they contribute in special teams as well as on offense to make the roster?
Aug 12, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Carl Nassib, right, applies pressure against the Green Bay Packers in the second quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
For all the questions on the offensive side of the ball, the questions on defense are significantly more severe. Not only are there personnel questions to be answered, there are actually schematic questions to be addressed.
The Browns starting defensive linemen played well into the fourth quarter last week against Tampa Bay. Among the packages and combinations, the Browns were experimenting with was the 4-3 defensive front. The Browns may be better suited up front to run a 4-3 defense with Danny Shelton playing defensive tackle, Emmanuel Ogbah at defensive end and Carl Nassib at defensive end.
Nassib has become a fan favorite playing with reckless abandon. His play is reminiscent of Danny Bateman’s crazy playing style.
This is the game to see players play out of their minds. Who will play themselves onto the team tonight and maybe even into the starting lineup?
Keep an eye on the strong safety position where Derrick Kindred has been stealing first-team reps away from Ibraheim Campbell. Also watch for the cornerback play as there are of couple of spots completely up for grabs.
The most interesting battles will come at linebacker. Undrafted free agent Dominique Alexander and seventh-round pick Scooby Wright have shown flashes. This will be their last chance to work their way on to the team.
Pay very close attention to special teams where most of these battles will be taking place.
Dec 13, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns tackle Joe Thomas (73) leaves the field after the Cleveland Browns beat the San Francisco 49ers 24-10 at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
For most of the players the fourth preseason game is an opportunity. It is the final chance in 2016 to put forth their best effort in hopes to stick with the Cleveland Browns. If they end up cut, this game is their best chance to impress another team for a roster spot.
They play like there is no tomorrow because for twenty-two of them, there is no tomorrow.
This is exactly what makes the game exciting to watch. Every player on the field Thursday night has absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.
To gain for the players who make the roster is a chance to play in the NFL. Players have been dreaming since they were kids for this moment. They have but in a lot of hard work in high school, college and in camp. In this preseason game, they have the opportunity to find glory.
Go to the “Replacement Bowl.” Support those players who have worked their butts off chasing a dream. This will be the most exciting game of the preseason. It is my personal favorite.