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Browns rookie WR Corey Coleman needs strong preseason finale to show he's ready for Week 1

The pressure is about to get real for rookie receiver Corey Coleman.

The pressure is about to get real for rookie receiver Corey Coleman.
After struggling in his preseason debut Friday with no catches, a lost shoe and missed assignments, Coleman, the No. 15 pick, gets a second shot Thursday night in the finale against the Chicago Bears at FirstEnergy Stadium. It’s his last chance to show he’s ready for the regular season, when he’ll be counted on to make an immediate impact.
“He needs to go do it,” coach Hue Jackson said Tuesday. “He has been very consistent in practice. He needs to go out and play the game this week and then prepare himself for next week because the intensity and how things are played in the National Football League in the regular season is much different than preseason.
“He has some big challenges ahead of himself, but I think he will be up to the task.”
Coleman got off to a great start in training camp before injuring a hamstring that sidelined him for the first two preseason games. He needs to quickly make up for lost time.
He said Tuesday he’s 100 percent healthy and felt fast, not rusty, against Tampa Bay. But his performance wasn’t polished.
“It’s just like you gotta do small details right and you gotta know what to do at the right time and you gotta know a lot as a receiver,” he said. “You can get frustrated, then you might miss if they’re in a coverage that you need to do something else, then you might miss what you need to do, your assignment. So you gotta make sure you see everything.”
Fellow wideout and Baylor alumnus Josh Gordon said the first preseason game can be a jolt for rookies. Then there’s another jump to the speed and intensity of the regular season.
“So I think mentally his head’s probably trying to put it all together and figure it out, exactly the pace at which it’s played,” Gordon said. “But he’s got the talent and the ability to do it. And once he hones in on that and digs deep, I think he’ll be a dominant receiver in this league, especially for this team. We could use him, I think he’s ready to do that.”
Jackson thought Coleman pressed in his first preseason action, and Coleman didn’t disagree.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. “It was good for me to get the feel, be out there. It was fun, a lot of energy out there moving kinda fast, but I was just happy to be out there.”
Gordon was a rookie in 2012 and remembers his preseason debut.
“It was definitely scary, for sure,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was going to be like, what the talent level really was, until I made my first play. Then you could feel a certain type of confidence as though you belong here, I think I can make plays here.
“He’ll get to that point. Just comes with experience, and this next game hopefully he gets another opportunity, he gets more comfortable and he gets out there and loosens up and he’ll be able to fly, I believe.”
Coleman said he’s excited about playing against the Bears and wants to feel the rhythm of the game and find a groove with quarterback Robert Griffin III. Jackson intends to play all his starters, and Coleman will likely play a bit longer.
“Just getting involved and me and Robert being on the same page,” he said of his goals.
Griffin remains confident Coleman can rediscover his form from early in camp in time for the opener Sept. 11 in Philadelphia.
“I think without a doubt he can do that,” Griffin said. “I remember when I was a rookie and I had my first game, I had my first-game jitters, too. People think that preseason games don’t matter, don’t count, but to rookies they matter and they count. So I’m looking forward to getting Corey back out there against Chicago and unleashing him and letting him do some things, so he can feel confident going into the season.
“If he doesn’t catch any balls, it’s just a matter of going through the process of going through another game, preparing, getting ready. And I think that mental side of it will take care of it ’cause Corey’s physical attributes, you see him out at practice, you see him in the game, the guy can flat out run and catch the ball. So it’s just about letting that translate to gameday and having him feel comfortable, and we’re working on that process to make sure he does.”
Jackson’s decision to play the starters makes sense, but it’s not automatic. Many coaches are so afraid of injuries in the preseason finale, they sit all key contributors.
Jackson likely won’t play the starters long — particularly those on offense — but he felt it important to put them back on the field following three less than impressive preseason losses for his young squad. Jackson would like a sustained drive from his offense and for the defense to put up resistance on the ground and in the air.
“Every time you get an opportunity to go out there and play the game, it’s an opportunity to improve, so Coach decided he wants to play the starters,” Griffin said. “We’re ready to go.”
The offense’s strength has been the long ball, as Griffin has complete five passes of at least 25 yards, including three touchdowns. But the offense has yet to show enough variety through short and intermediate passes and a commitment to the run.
“Coach has harped on us to make sure we’re doing everything the right way, so if we can execute and hit the big plays, then we have to be able to execute and hit the small ones and that’s what we’re focused on,” Griffin said.
The roster cut from 75 to 53 is Saturday, so plenty of players sit squarely on the bubble heading into the final chance to impress. Besides quarterback, where Griffin, veteran Josh McCown and rookie Cody Kessler seem secure, every position has at least one spot undecided.
Receiver is the most interesting. Coleman, Terrelle Pryor and rookie fifth-round pick Rashard Higgins look like locks, but that’s where the certainty stops. (Gordon will be suspended for the first four games and doesn’t count against the roster.)
Slot receiver Andrew Hawkins has a history with Jackson but is 30 years old and missed much of camp with a hamstring injury. Taylor Gabriel, 25, has outplayed Hawkins, including six catches vs. Tampa Bay, and could take his spot as the third receiver until Gordon returns. The Browns could keep both undersized guys, but it seems unlikely.
The Browns drafted four receivers in April and it would be a surprise if they didn’t keep at least three, so Jordan Payton or Ricardo Louis should grab the fifth spot. If the Browns keep six, the decision would come down to Hawkins/Gabriel, 28-year-old special teamer Marlon Moore and second-year Darius Jennings.
Other battles to watch: third running back (Terrelle Watson vs. Raheem Mostert); fourth, fifth and sixth cornerbacks (Justin Gilbert, Charles Gaines, Eric Patterson and rookies Trey Caldwell, Tracy Howard and Mikell Everette) and fourth inside linebacker (Tank Carder vs. rookie seventh-round pick Scooby Wright).
Kessler isn’t expected to play much, if at all, during the regular season. So Thursday night could be his final experience in a game until next summer.
“We know he knows how to complete the ball,” Jackson said. “It is just running our offense and understanding where the ball is going and just understanding the National Football League game, just how fast it is, and how things change and how defenses work.
“It is just the experience. He needs to get the experience, and he will get an opportunity to play and probably play longer this week than he has all year. That will be important for him.”
Kessler threw a touchdown on his first play of the preseason, then took two safeties in the loss to Green Bay. He was much better last week against Tampa Bay, going 5-for-6 for 27 yards with a sack and 85.4 rating. In three games, he is 9-for-11 for 52 yards, a touchdown, four sacks and a 116.7 rating.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or [email protected] Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.


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