Kizer and Haden and the Bears, oh my!

What is the big Browns news heading into tonight’s final preseason game against the Bears?

DeShone Kizer will be their starting quarterback for the first regular season game against the Steelers, and he will be throwing against none other than the former beloved Browns cornerback, Joe Haden.  It will fascinating to see how both perform in their new roles, and I wish both of them the best.  (I really do.  Joe was a loyal Browns player and loyal Cleveland fan from the time he was drafted until the time he was released, and while it will physically pain me to see him in black and yellow, I hope he sees the resurgence in his career that he has been working for.)

That said, it is now incumbent on other Browns players to step up as leaders of the defense.  Who fits the bill?  LB Christian Kirksey is the obvious choice, but let’s look at who stood out against Tampa Bay:

Joe Schobert looked like a monster, again.  I am so excited to watch our starting linebackers–Kirksey, Schobert, and Jamie Collins–light up offenses this year.  I expect all three of these guys to emerge as defensive leaders this season.  I am also excited for DB Derrick Kindred and DEs Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib to take on more prominent roles this season.  All three play with incredible motors, are reliable tacklers, and have excelled at getting into the backfield during the preseason.  With Myles Garrett and Ogbah around, Nassib won’t be starting at defensive end, but I would love to see him make a big jump from his rookie season.  Finally, I am pumped about Jabrill Peppers.  Watching him get his first NFL interception was a highlight of last week’s game, and his return game looks strong as well.  The Browns defense appears to be much improved from only a season ago.

There seem to be more questions surrounding the Browns offensive play headed into the season.  Will Kizer be able to handle the transition from college quarterback to NFL starter?  I hope he will.  And I hope we don’t see a repeat of what happened to Cody Kessler last season.  Watching him play last week, it is clear after a rough rookie season plagued by injuries that he is incredibly uncomfortable in the pocket, and it affects his ability to make plays down the field.  Arguably, Kevin Hogan looked like the better backup QB, although the trade-off will be better pocket awareness in exchange for less accuracy.  What do you prefer Browns fans–sack fumbles or interceptions?  That unpleasant question aside, Hogan was the only Browns QB that managed to score a touchdown against the Buccaneers, albeit against a third-string defense, and he deserves credit for it.

There are questions at the offensive skill positions as well: Will Isaiah Crowell hang onto his role as the Browns go-to running back throughout the season?  You may think the answer is obvious, but I’m not so sure.  He has to balance a strong forward motion with staying on his feet (a challenge that has plagued him his entire career), all while feeling Matthew Dayes, our pleasant surprise of a seventh round draft pick, breathing down his neck.  And who will be our starting wide receivers?  Corey Coleman made an excellent argument for himself as WR1 against Tampa Bay, with several exceptional catches.  Aside from Coleman, however, the field seems wide open, which is disappointing after the Browns drafted 4 receivers last year and acquired free agent Kenny Britt during the offseason.  All in all, it will be interesting to see who stands out in tonight’s game against the Bears, as the Browns have quite a bit of work to do in solidifying the depth chart and the 53-man roster.