Some random impressions from the Cleveland Browns first exhibition game:
Some guys that I thought played well were LG Joel Bitonio, who seemed very tough for Detroit defensive linemen to move, ILB Craig Robertson, who defended the screen very well, Marcus Trufant who got into some man-to-man coverage in place of Joe Haden, Barkevious Mingo, who put on a decent pash rush showing that he might be a viable starter, WR Charles Johnson who had a nice catch and showed no lingering effects from knee surgery, and Brandon Tate who had several strong runs. Rookie Tyler Gabriel caught three balls for 32 yards, which might not sound like much, but he was actually the leading wide receiver for the Browns. Overall Browns wideouts were dismal.
It was great to see the Browns rediscover halfback over right tackle, thanks to Ben Tate. The Browns were not able to do that last year with Willis McGahee as the feature back. Now, however, they have Tate as well as Terrance West, Chris Ogbonnaya, Isaiah Crowell and Dion Lewis. Somewhere, somehow you have to think they are going to run the ball this season, and run it a lot.
It will be interesting to say how Marqueis Gray plays out at fullback. Last year he played quarterback in the Wildcat for the Browns, but that position has been eliminated. With Ken Dray joining Jordan Cameron and Gary Barnidge in the tight end corps, it makes sense to try Gray exclusively at fullback. He was actually the leading receiver for the Browns yesterday with two catches for 51 yards, but also had a dropped pass. If he can prove he can catch the ball, he might find a home at fullback. If not, free agent Ray Agnew might take his place, or else they might use undersized Chris Ogbonnaya in that role again.
Charles Johnson gives a faint glimmer of hope at Wide Receiver.
Ben Tate looks like he will be a force in a run-first offense in 2014.
Brian Hoyer did not look good, overthrowing a few passes and rushing some of his throws. I can already hear ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski complaining about Hoyer's mechanics and explaining what happens when you throw off the wrong foot. Well 6 for 14 is what happens. He is lucky not to have thrown a few picks.
Of course, Hoyer had help from his teammates, with drops by Marqueis Gray, WR Willie Snead who waved at a few balls, and WR Miles Austin. The passing game just doesn't look good right now.
Exhibition football is made for quarterbacks to succeed. Defenses don't gameplan much and play a lot of man-to-man without much stunting up front. Hence fans should not get too excited if their quarterback put up great numbers...but on the other hand if the qb flops in exhibition season, it is not going to get any easier when the regular season starts. For that reason, I thought that Hoyer took a step back, and Johnny Manziel would be the odds on favorite to start if Hoyer struggles again next week. In other words, Johnny isn't really winning the comparison at this point; but Brian may be losing it.
Johnny Manziel was good, not spectacular. But that was better than Brian Hoyer.
The Browns did not play RB Isaiah Crowell or qb Connor Shaw yesterday. It may be that the Browns don't want to let the other scouts see these guys, hoping that they can sign them to their practice squad. On the other hand, with Tyler Thigpen turning in a lackluster performance, Shaw might be viable now as the third string guy.
Dion Lewis may be in trouble as he put the ball on the ground. He looked great in exhibitions in 2013 before injuring his knee. He can run and return kicks, but whether or not he can catch the ball and block remains to be seen. For that reason Crowell might have a shot at the 53 man roster, especially if the Browns feel that they have other options for returning kicks behind Travis Benjamin.
Edwin Baker was perhaps more impressive than Lewis, getting some tough yards in limited duty. He performed well in some late season starts last year. I think he is a better running back than Lewis, but Lewis might be a good role player and is a good kick returner. It's tough to guess which guy has the edge, although the fumble by Lewis does not help him.