There are few things less entertaining in the world than the fourth and final preseason game. Even worse when it’s a Browns fourth and final preseason game.
While agonizing for fans to watch, it is serious business for the players who have jobs on the line.
Typically the starters sit this one out but not for Hue Jackson Thursday night. Jackson will play them against the Bears because he feels the team needs work on both sides of the ball before the season opener Sept. 11 at Philadelphia and based on the first 3 preseason games, it’s hard to argue they don’t.
Rosters will be trimmed to 53 Saturday afternoon by 4 p.m. and the Browns have a lot of decisions to make.
– Receiver: Assuming they will keep 6 and setting aside Josh Gordon (headed to the reserve/suspended list), the first 3 are set with Corey Coleman, Terrelle Pryor and Andrew Hawkins. Rookies Rashard Higgins and Ricardo Louis also appear safe leaving 1 roster spot for Taylor Gabriel, Darius Jennings and Marlon Moore to win. Rookie Jordan Payton appears to be the perfect practice squad candidate.
– Tight end: Randell Telfer has leapfrogged early camp star Connor Hamlett for the No. 2 TE slot behind Pro Bowler Gary Barnidge on the depth chart while rookie Seth DeValve appears in line for the third spot.
– Offensive line: veteran Alvin Bailey has gone from the initial starter at right tackle to fighting for a job. Bailey along with Dan France, Kaleb Johnson and rookie Mike Matthews are on the bubble.
– Running back: Barring an injury Thursday night, the top 3 are set – Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson and Raheem Mostert.
– Quarterback: The Browns should end up keeping all three quarterbacks but Josh McCown could still get dealt with the situations in Minnesota and Dallas unresolved and the front office’s love of stocking up future picks.
– Defensive line: Xavior Cooper, Danny Shelton and John Hughes are your starters up front with Jaime Meder and Carl Nassib on solid ground. With Armonty Bryant on the reserve/suspended list for the first 4 weeks the Browns could opt for a sixth lineman which they will likely pick up over the weekend after scanning the waiver wire.
– Linebackers: Demario Davis, Christian Kirksey and Nate Orchard are set as starters. Paul Kruger’s spot will be filled by rookies Emmanuel Ogbah or Joe Schobert. Justin Tuggle, Tank Carder and Cam Johnson appear to be on solid ground leaving rookies Scooby Wright III and Domonique Alexander as practice squad candidates.
– Cornerback: Joe Haden and Jamar Taylor start with Tramon Williams appearing to be set at nickel but he could be on the bubble. Jackson did say this week that Williams, who is recovering from a toe injury, was in the team’s plans but the Browns could save themselves another $12 million in 2016 and 2017 combined by cutting him. 2014 No. 8 overall pick Justin Gilbert, currently in the concussion protocol, is also on the bubble. Trey Caldwell, Tracy Howard or Charles Gaines could still win a spot in the secondary.
– Safety: Jordan Poyer and Ibraheim Campbell are the starters with Rahim Moore and Derrick Kindred backing them up while Pierre Desir and Don Jones could be fighting for one of the few final roster spots.
– Specialists: Following the trade of 3-time Pro Bowler Andy Lee, the Browns need a punter. Enter Kasey Redfern and Michael Palardy. The winner – which could be neither come Saturday – also gets to hold for kicker Patrick Murray. Charley Hughlett remains as the long snapper.
Browns Probable Starters – OFFENSE: WR Josh Gordon, LT Joe Thomas, LG Joel Bitonio, C Cameron Erving, RG John Greco, RT Austin Pasztor, TE Gary Barnidge, WR Terrelle Pryor, QB Robert Griffin III, RB Isaiah Crowell, FB Malcolm Johnson
DEFENSE: DE John Hughes, NT Danny Shelton, DE Jamie Meder, OLB Emmanuel Ogbah, ILB Demario Davis, ILB Christian Kirksey, OLB Nate Orchard, CB Joe Haden, CB Jamar Taylor, FS Jordan Poyer, SS Ibraheim Campbell
Injury Report – CB Justin Gilbert (concussion), CB Tramon Williams (toe), WR Marlon Moore (hip), RB Raheem Mostert (hamstring)
Uniform – Brown jersey, brown pants, orange socks
Kickoff – 8 p.m. FirstEnergy Stadium – Cleveland, Ohio
Radio/TV – 92.3 The Fan, 98.5 WNCX and the PNC Bank Cleveland Browns Radio Network; WEWS NewsChannel 5 (ABC)