First and Ten – the ‘glorified scrimmage’
1) Here we go again. The fourth preseason game comes and the Browns plan to play their starters very little, if at all. Colt McCoy will start at quarterback. The offensive line probably will play one series, if that. So the final practice game comes down to backups and backups for the backups competing to fill out the bottom half of the roster. Given how sharp the Browns have looked, I guess it’s silly to get the starters on the field for a half.
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2) The argument in favor of this approach: Avoid injuries with the starters and get guys to the regular season healthy. But that argument holds a lot more water when the team a) has made the playoffs in recent memory and b) has a veteran quarterback and veteran players around him and c) has played together for several years. Scott Fujita, Ben Watson and even Josh Cribbs might not need this game, but when a team has a rookie quarterback who will be 29 during the season and has a bunch of young receivers, it seems like said starters could use as much work as they can get. Brandon Weeden has yet to throw a touchdown in the preseason. He’s fumbled three times in five quarters. Josh Gordon is growing. Greg Little looked lost last Friday against the Eagles. These guys need time to work together, to play together. Yet they won’t play as a unit in the final preseason game.
3) Yes, guys can get hurt. And that is a risk. But that risk is there in every play, every practice, every workout. Phil Taylor got hurt lifting weights. Miami lost offensive tackle Jake Long in a practice. Same with Chris Gocong. Protecting them when they’re so young and need so much work sends a message of entitlement and arrival way before anyone on this offense has arrived. Sit Tom Brady in the preseason and it doesn’t matter. Sit Weeden in the finale and it doesn’t seem to help anyone. Yes, the argument can be made that a coach’s job is at stake, and if he loses a key player it could cause further problems with job security. But if a team isn’t ready for the opener and struggles because of it, that is just as damaging.
4) Meanwhile, fans keep paying full price for this fourth game, which makes the outrage over preseason football even more outrageous. Imagine the money paid to see a bunch of guys who will not play again the rest of the season. What a pleasure for the paying customer.
5) Pat Shurmur’s comment on Weeden’s readiness for the regular season? He addressed it Tuesday. “I think,” Shurmur said, “(Weeden’s) very prepared. I think he’s had an outstanding camp. I thought he had an outstanding offseason. Really he’s kind of improved every day. For a guy that’s going through this for the first time as a pro, I think he’s very ready.” Of course we’re all pleased he had such a good “offseason.”
6) Several rookie quarterbacks have played a lot this preseason, and only two have yet to throw a touchdown pass:
The above chart is pure numbers without perspective. It does not reveal approach, the opposition or philosophy. But those are the numbers.
7) Fujita said he remains “very confident” he will play in the opener against the Eagles. Fujita had been suspended three games for his alleged contributions to the Saints bounty program. Fujita declined to go into more detail, but the argument from the suspended players has them believing they can at least get a temporary restraining order staying the suspensions. The players and their attorneys believe that going ahead with the suspensions could cause them irreparable harm, which is why a judge would grant a restraining order putting the suspensions on hold until it’s decided if the commissioner acted properly. The players believe they should have the chance to argue in court that Roger Goodell went too far. If there is a court case, the NFL would be compelled to go to discovery, which would force them to reveal the evidence they had when they decided on the suspensions. The players have long maintained — and Fujita has gone on record — that there was never a pay-to-injure program with the Saints, and the league has no evidence there was.
8) Predictions are what they are, so take them that way. But the Browns are getting murdered nationally. The image of the team combined with its schedule has folks thinking this will be one looong season. ESPN: The Magazine this week predicted a 1-15 finish, with the only win coming Week 15 over Washington. In talking with a league insider this week, he suddenly blurted out: “Oh-and-16 is a very real possibility there.” To which I wittily responded: “Seriously?” He said: “Let’s put it this way: There is a higher probability of that than 5-11.” Ouch, ouch and double ouch.
9) The NFL can be a cold world sometimes. A few years back in a previous life while covering college football at Florida, I watched as safety Louis Oliver dislocated his elbow in a game. He was in so much pain after the game that he was shaking. Trainers had to put his clothes on for him, and he could barely step to put on his pants. He actually came back to play two weeks later, but the sight of him shaking and shivering in complete agony lingers. Friday night Browns defensive lineman Marcus Benard dislocated his elbow on a goal-line play. Monday, Shurmur was asked about Benard and he said: “He dislocated his elbow, and they fixed it. We’ll just see how quickly he’ll progress.” Benard then was waived/injured on Tuesday — once he clears waivers he’ll either go on injured reserve or the team will come to an injury settlement with him. Evidently they didn’t “fix it” completely. I get that Shurmur’s approach is to avoid injury talk until he absolutely has to address it, but that just didn’t sound all that sympathetic.
10) On the flip side, Shurmur continues to say he’s “optimistic” running back Trent Richardson will face the Eagles in the opener. There has been no visual evidence to the media to support that optimism, though. Other than making a brief appearance to sign an autograph, Richardson has not been seen on the practice field since he was sidelined in early August. Not even to watch.