Fans won’t have to wait until Sept. 8 to see most of the Browns’ best players in action.
Coach Freddie Kitchens doesn’t consider the third preseason game the “dress rehearsal” for the regular season but will play his starters Friday night at Tampa Bay. He won’t risk injury in the finale Aug. 29 against Detroit, so this is the last chance to experience game action before the Tennessee Titans visit FirstEnergy Stadium on Sept. 8 to begin the season of great expectations.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield wants to play at least a half but will listen to Kitchens, who wouldn’t commit to an amount of playing time for anyone. Mayfield led a touchdown drive in one series against Washington then sat out last week against the Colts.
“It’s a final tune-up, iron everything out,” Mayfield said Wednesday.
Cornerback Denzel Ward didn’t play the first two games as he dealt with a minor leg injury. He was a full participant in practice this week and was looking forward to some snaps against the Buccaneers.
“I just love playing the game and being out there with the guys and just seeing how the coaches are going to call the play call and just getting my footwork back and getting comfortable playing,” he said.
Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (hip) won’t play, and tight end David Njoku might join him on the sideline. Njoku didn’t practice with a helmet this week because of stitches on the back of his head.
Kitchens will decide time for the rest of the starters on a case-by-case basis, but most will play at least a couple of series.
Here are four more things to watch:
LOCK IT DOWN
Eric Kush has been the starting right guard for three weeks. He can make it official with a strong performance against Tampa Bay.
That’s exactly what line coach James Campen wants.
“Hopefully, it is very apparent who (the starter) is,” he said Tuesday.
If Kush struggles, the Browns will be in scramble mode. Austin Corbett could re-enter the picture, with the other options rookie sixth-round pick Drew Forbes and backup tackle Kendall Lamm.
Kitchens said Monday the Browns weren’t ready to bring in another kicker.
That could change if Greg Joseph and rookie Austin Seibert continue their battle of futility.
The misses traveled from the practice field in Berea to the dome in Indianapolis as both missed 50-plus-yard field goals. Kitchens and Mayfield tried to bump up the pressure during practice this week, standing a couple of feet away. It didn’t help.
Even if Joseph or Seibert gets hot, general manager John Dorsey could decide he can’t trust either and pursue a veteran.
If Jaelen Strong has locked up a roster spot alongside Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins, as it appears, one or two spots remain open at receiver.
Derrick Willies seems to be the leading contender and is battling Damion Ratley, Ishmael Hyman, Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi, Dorian Baker and new addition Braxton Miller. Undrafted rookie D.J. Montgomery was eliminated from the competition Wednesday when he was placed on injured reserve.
Miller, the former Ohio State quarterback who was signed before practice Wednesday, must get up to speed in a hurry, and his fastest route to the roster may be as a kick returner.
TAKE ’EM DOWN
Kitchens was frustrated by missed tackles against the Colts, especially three on a touchdown drive.
Rookie linebacker Mack Wilson and rookie safety Sheldrick Redwine were the chief culprits and must show improvement against the Buccaneers. Both figure to make the 53-man roster regardless, but Redwine’s spot might not be guaranteed in a crowded safety room. He also gave up a touchdown pass against Indianapolis.