The Cleveland Browns host the Washington Redskins Thursday night in their preseason opener. Most of the players on the field by the time the game ends will be unrecognizable, but aside from getting through the game with as few injuries as possible, here are some things to watch for.
1. 23rd Time’s A Charm?
Cleveland’s quarterback woes have been well-documented since 1999. 22 men have entered, and not one of them has left unscathed or latched on to have long-term success on the shores of Lake Erie.
Next in line for the quarterback carousel is veteran Josh McCown. McCown signed a three-year deal with the Browns in March after having an atrocious 2014 season with Tampa Bay, in which the Bucaneers went 1-10 in games started by McCown.
GM Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine hope that a change of scenery and what many believe will be a better position for McCown to succeed will lead to results closer to two years ago in Chicago.
By all accounts from those who attend training camp, McCown has had a good preseason up to this point. Browns’ all-pro left tackle Joe Thomas was recently asked what gave him the most excitement going into this season, and Thomas responded that he was “beyond impressed” with McCown since March.
2. The Polynesian Squash
Danny Shelton, the 6’2″ 339 lb. nose tackle selected 12th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft is poised to make a big impact in Cleveland. The Browns finished dead last in the NFL in rushing defense in 2014, allowing an average of 141.6 yards per game. Shelton recorded 9 sacks his senior year at Washington University, and if this team is going to rely on a formula of great defense and running the football, a great rookie season by a top draft pick will be a key component.
Linebacker Paul Krueger compared Shelton to former Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, and given the poor performance of recent first-round draft picks in Cleveland, anything close to that production will be outstanding.
3. All Business. No Money Sign.
Johnny Manziel has had a relatively quiet offseason up to this point, which in the case of Johnny Football, no news is good news. Manziel has recommitted himself to football and has made strides both on and off the field to better himself personally and as a player.
All that said, he has a steep hill to climb from how far he fell in the 2014 season. Several good practices and a good scrimmage in Columbus are positive signs, and Manziel will look to keep the positivity going Thursday night against the Redskins, ironically the same team he played against in his second NFL preseason game and made headlines by making an obscene gesture towards the Redskins bench.
Manziel has sworn off the money sign and appears to have a different attitude and demeanor going into this season, but public speaking and promoting his brand were never a problem for the 22-year-old. Ultimately it’s what he does on the field that will win him back in the good graces of his teammates fully and rebuild some respect with a fan base that was let down by the hype and promise of the former Heisman in his rookie season.
Thursday night’s game will just be an appetizer, like all of the four preseason games leading up to the regular season for hungry fans in Cleveland, a city starving for a championship in any sport, and unmatched in passion for its football team. Taken into perspective, this game will have little meaning, but simply seeing the orange helmets against an opposing team will be a sign of the start of another football season in the heartland of America.