The next time you see Brandon Weeden at quarterback for the Browns, it will be the real deal.
Weeden is among several starters coach Rob Chudzinski won't play tonight when the Browns close out the preseason on the road against the Chicago Bears. Among those that will play are offensive lineman Oniel Cousins, defensive lineman Billy Winn, linebacker Quentin Groves, receivers Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin and quarterback Jason Campbell.
Running back Trent Richardson will join Weeden and most of the other starters on the sideline. Chudzinski will use the game as a chance for one more evaluation of players who may or may not be with the team next week.
Weeden will enter the opener at home against the Miami Dolphins having completed 30-of-50 passes (60 percent) for 334 yards and three touchdowns. He didn't throw any interceptions, but he easily could have had a couple passes picked off last week in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer will likely get more reps than Campbell, whom Chudzinski will want to rest quickly to keep him healthy so he can back up Weeden. The second half will essentially be the final exam for a host of players that will be involved in discussions when the roster is reduced from 75 to the regular-season limit of 53 by 4 p.m. Saturday.
The two days after the game are among the most difficult for a coaching staff. There are always players that stand out (particularly rookie free agents) that have to be cut. The best of those players often are retained at the expense of a spot that once appeared reserved for a veteran.
Perhaps the most impressive rookie free agent is safety Josh Aubrey of Stephen A. Austin. The Browns aren't deep at the safety spots. Tashaun Gipson, a rookie free agent that made the roster last year, is slated to start a free safety. Four-year veteran T.J. Ward should start at strong safety, but he's been injured and looked ineffective against the Colts.
Johnson Bademosi, another 2012 rookie free agent, is pushing for more time and has the added value of being able to return kicks. There isn't much depth beyond Gipson, Ward and Bademosi, and with draft choice Jamoris Slaughter dealing with an injury, Aubrey has a good chance to make the roster.
"It is not as easy as saying it's between 'this guy' and 'this guy' a lot of times," Chudzinski said. "For one thing, there are other positions, so you're balancing a player at one position to a player at another position. Sometimes they're not even on the same side of the ball.
"Then there are always things that happen. If you look two weeks ago at what you thought the roster was going to be, things change really quick in games. Injuries and those things play a part in that. As I mentioned before, there are guys who are getting released from other teams, too, that potentially play into the mix."
The receiver spots are areas that need to be settled behind Gordon, Greg Little, Davone Bess and David Nelson, who makes his first preseason appearance tonight after dealing with a knee injury. No more than two more will be kept. The release of Jordan Norwood means that second-year veteran Josh Cooper will probably stay.
"Josh has really improved," Chudzinski said. "Going back to last season and watching tape on him, he's really become dependable and is catching the ball. He's been able to work to get open. He has had a really good training camp."
It should all make for an interesting Saturday afternoon.