The Browns are taking their biggest stars to Indiana this week.
The host Colts will be without their marquee man.
Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck won’t practice Wednesday and Thursday or play Saturday in the preseason game, the Colts announced. Luck has been dealing with a calf injury since the spring, and Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard said Tuesday night it’s turned into a high ankle issue.
Luck is a four-time Pro Bowler, and the Colts returned to their playoff form last year after he missed 2017 with a shoulder injury. He would’ve been a great test for Cleveland’s linebackers and defensive backs and will be replaced by Jacoby Brissett, a capable backup who’s a threat to run.
Even without the former No. 1 overall pick, there’s plenty to look forward to as the Browns take their show on the road and try to take the next step in their preparation for the highly anticipated regular season.
Here are five things I’ll be watching during the afternoon practices in Westfield, Ind.
Rookie cornerback Greedy Williams is tested every day in practice by receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, but it can only help to see another elite skill set.
That’s exactly what Colts wideout T.Y. Hilton brings to the field.
Hilton is a four-time Pro Bowler and had 76 catches for 1,270 yards and six touchdowns last year in 14 games. He’s only 5-foot-10, 183 pounds but can stretch the field.
Williams had an interception in the preseason opener and is in a battle with veteran Terrance Mitchell to be the starter opposite Denzel Ward. A good week against Hilton could tilt the scales in his favor.
The Browns won’t see Parris Campbell, a rookie from Ohio State, who’s out with a hamstring injury. His elite speed paired with Hilton would’ve stressed free safety Damarious Randall.
The offensive line is the primary source of doubt for many when it comes to the Browns roster. Right guard remains unsettled and left tackle Greg Robinson has been too inconsistent in his career to inspire confidence.
If the line can hold its own against the Colts front seven, coach Freddie Kitchens will be able to breathe easier and general manager John Dorsey may be able to resist making a roster move before the regular season.
Defensive end Jabaal Sheard, a former second-round pick by the Browns, is out with a knee injury, but the Colts have other talent across the front four.
Justin Houston, formerly of the Chiefs, will challenge Robinson, who’s struggled to stay in front of Myles Garrett during their matchups in Berea. Defensive tackle Denico Autry has been impressive for the Colts in camp and will be a handful for right guard Eric Kush, who’s trying to nail down the starting job.
LINE DANCE II
Cleveland’s reconfigured defensive line is finally back together — just in time to face a Colts offensive line that improved by leaps and bounds last season.
Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson returned to team drills Monday, joining ends Garrett and Olivier Vernon and tackle Larry Ogunjobi on a front four that ranks among the most talented in the NFL. Their first chance to show their dominance comes against the Colts.
Quenton Nelson, an All-Pro as a rookie last year, is a highlight machine for the Colts — which is tough to do as a left guard. He didn’t practice Monday with an ankle injury, but the Cleveland tackles would benefit from facing the hard-nosed Nelson.
His neighbor, left tackle Anthony Castonzo, is an eight-year starter and should have some tricks for Garrett.
GET TO WORK
Running back Kareem Hunt has started to work in team drills. Although Kitchens wouldn’t commit to him playing Saturday in the game after he missed the first week of camp with a groin injury, Hunt should participate in team drills during the joint practices.
With Hunt opening the season on an eight-game suspension, he needs all the action he can get in the next two weeks. Facing off against the Colts and linebacker Darius Leonard should help get him up to speed.
Leonard was an All-Pro and the Defensive Rookie of the Year last season. He had 163 tackles, seven sacks, 12 tackles for loss, two interceptions, eight passes defensed, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Hunt is a threat catching the ball out of the backfield, and Leonard can cover. The one-on-one battles will draw a lot of eyes.
The Cleveland linebacking situation hasn’t changed.
Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey, the incumbent veterans, have taken every snap with the starters when available. Rookies Sione Takitaki and Mack Wilson are stuck with the backups.
This week has the potential to change that.
Wilson has been a turnover machine, including two interceptions against Washington, but Kitchens said he’s still making plenty of mistakes. Takitaki has also been inconsistent.
The Colts have a pair of tight ends who will test all the linebackers in coverage and run support. Eric Ebron had 66 catches for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, and Jack Doyle had 80 catches for 690 yards and four touchdowns when healthy in 2017.
If the rookies hold their own, snaps with the starters could follow.