A big thank you to Chris Pokorny at Dawgs by Nature, who was kind enough to answer five burning questions about the Browns before these two teams play tonight.
Dave Choate: I think the big question for most fans not familiar with Cleveland would center on how Robert Griffin is faring. Does he look good, and is he the unquestioned starter?
Chris Pokorny: Robert Griffin is the unquestioned starting quarterback. He received allof the first-team reps during the team's offseason programs. The only reason he wasn't officially named the starter until a little over a week ago was that head coach Hue Jackson wanted to make sure Griffin remained motivated to progressively improve and take to his coaching. He did that and had a strong start to training camp. His strength has been hitting receivers on deep balls, but I'm still suspicious about his ability to read the defense after his first read is gone. So is Jackson, who has reportedly built receivers' routes to include certain adjustments that would time up with the event of Griffin rolling out, which he will be prone to doing.
Dave Choate: Give us a little primer on the offense. We know Josh Gordon will (probably) be back fairly early in the season, but who are the standouts with him sidelined for a little bit longer, and what is the offensive philosphy?
Chris Pokorny: Before he suffered a hamstring injury, Corey Coleman, the team's first-round draft pick, was the most explosive player in camp. It has given fans confidence that the new front office picked the best receiver in the draft. Coleman resumed practicing this week, so we're hoping he gets his first game action against the Falcons. Besides Coleman, "wide receiver" Terrelle Pryor has been fantastic. I said this in my exchange with the Packers blog last week -- with how polished his routes look, how well he's catching the ball, and his overall size, I think Pryor has transformed into a receiver who could start for quite a few teams in the NFL.
The big test he still has to pass is how well he can take a hit when he's running over the middle blindly through the teeth of a defense. The team's offensive philosophy will involve a lot of shifting and being "gimmicky" as one of our writers pointed out.
Dave Choate: On defense, there's some intriguing young pieces who haven't necessarily put things together. What are your expectations for the defense, and for guys like Justin Gilbert and Barkevious Mingo in particular?
Chris Pokorny: There are so many average and unproven players on defense that I'd have to have blind faith to the "nTH" power if my expectations were high for the defense.
If Cleveland is going to be good defensively, it'll rely entirely on scheming by defensive coordinator Ray Horton. In his last stint with the Browns, we saw some of that scheming work for a lesser defense, but I've also seen it not work during portions of his reign in Tennessee. The good thing is that Cleveland drafted several players who are expected to contribute regularly, including DE/OLB Emmanuel Ogbah, DL Carl Nassib, and LB Joe Schobert. If we can see those players mature as the season goes on, and if we can identify if one of our "unknowns" at safety between Jordan Poyer and Ibraheim Campbell can blossom intothe next Tashaun Gipson (began as an undrafted free agent, became a Pro Bowler), then I'll chalk this season up as a win for Hue Jackson.
This is a big camp for Justin Gilbert and Barkevious Mingo. Gilbert's attitude and commitment have reportedly improved, but his technique has remained pretty rough in camp and it's easy to see why quarterbacks are picking on him. Mingo still has the look of a physical specimen, but last week against Green Bay, we saw more of the same about what makes watching him so frustrating: he's in position to make a big play on the quarterback and just doesn't finish.
Dave Choate: Give us one player on either side of the ball we may never have heard of that could be headed for a major role, not just tonight, but well into the season.
Chris Pokorny: Defensive end Jamie Meder. He is a native Clevelander who played pretty well as a rotational nose tackle in 2015 -- some even feel he played better than starterDanny Shelton. The coaching staff was impressed with how Meder played last week against Green Bay, which included him logging a safety, and have named him a starter for this week's game.
Dave Choate: What do you expect the result of this game to be, and the result of your 2016 season?
Chris Pokorny: My regular season projections for the Browns are bad enough year-after-year, and now you want me to predict the result of a preseason game? You're killing me here!
Because the Browns will be without Joe Thomas at left tackle this week, I'll be a bit concerned about the health of Robert Griffin III (our perception is that every time he gets touched, it could be another knee injury). If the offense is rushed and Atlanta picks on our young defense (I've seen Kyle Shanahan do well in the preseason before), then I'll pick Atlanta to win. As forthe 2016 season, this league is built on parity and I stick with when Hue Jackson once led the Raiders to 8-8 to make me optimistic this team can have a 6- or 7-win season.