Still questions heading into Browns’ opener
One thing we’ve learned after almost six weeks of training camp is that the Cleveland Browns have a decent third-string quarterback.
Actually, Brian Hoyer, who played at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, might be good enough to move ahead of second-string quarterback Jason Campbell and serve as Brandon Weeden’s backup.
Granted, Hoyer worked against the second and third defensive units of the Chicago Bears in leading a comeback in an 18-16 win Thursday at Soldier Field. Still, it was difficult not to be impressed by the speed in which Hoyer set in the pocket and delivered passes in completing 24-of-35 throws for 307 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
One of the interceptions was clearly on receiver Josh Gordon, who tends to sleep walk at times. Gordon failed to cut sharp and quick enough in front of Demontre Hurst, allowing the defender to make the interception.
Beyond Hoyer’s performance there wasn’t much that stood out, other than the fact that receiver David Nelson isn’t ready for the regular season. Nelson, playing in his first game since suffering a knee injury in the 2012 opener with the Buffalo Bills, caught four passes for 54 yards but had trouble maintaining his feet at times and was seen limping late in the game.
The Browns won’t be in great shape at the receiver spots when they enter the season opener against the Miami Dolphins in eight days. Gordon will begin a two-game suspension for a violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, which is a significant loss.
The top three receivers will likely by Greg Little, Davone Bess and Travis Benjamin. Bess can’t be counted on because of a persistent knee injury, which could mean plenty of time for Josh Cooper, assuming he makes the 53-man roster.
Another problem for the passing game is the health of tight end Jordan Cameron. He missed practices earlier this week with a groin injury that isn’t considered serious, but that can change at a moment’s notice with a player that has had injury issues.
Needless to say, the Dolphins’ defense will undoubtedly pack it in and focus on stopping the rushes of running back Trent Richardson. The strategy will be to see if Weeden can beat them with a sub-par collection of receivers.
Most of the starting spots were settled before camp started. Although coach Rob Chudzinski acted as if Weeden and Campbell were competing, that issue was settled long before the official announcement was made 13 days ago.
The big question on defense is the health of Chris Owens, who’s slated to start at right cornerback. Owens has been dealing with a leg issue that he says won’t keep him out of the opener. Even if Owens is healthy there’s no guarantee he will be a competent partner to Joe Haden.
The battle at right cornerback proved a couple of things. One is that rookie Leon McFadden isn’t close to being a starter. He even struggled against the Bears backup receivers, often resorting to grabbing jerseys to prevent big plays.
It’s obvious again that cornerback Buster Skrine can’t play on the outside. He’s too small to deal with big receivers who can overpower him.
Overall the defense has a chance to be better than average. Linebacker Paul Kruger looked outstanding against the Indianapolis Colts and will be a big addition. Jabaal Sheard, who’s been nursing a knee injury, appeared to make a smooth transition from end to linebacker.
Up front, tackle Phil Taylor appears poised for a big season. He missed half of last season with a torn pectoral, but he’s healthy and playing well.
Taylor brings a nasty streak that’s been missing for years. When was the last time the defense had someone who was feared by the opposition? It’s been awhile.
Everyone – from coaches to players to fans to the media – has to be glad that preseason is in the books. It’s now time to set sights on the Dolphins.
As linebacker Bart Scott once said, “Can’t wait!”