Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Fifteen training camp practices, two episodes of Hard Knocks and one preseason game whetted the appetite of a long-suffering Browns fan base starving for real football.
Now comes the first audition in front of the FirstEnergy Stadium home audience against the Buffalo Bills.
When was the last time a Browns preseason game was so anticipated?
It’s Baker Mayfield’s first game at home.
It’s Tyrod Taylor’s first game at home.
It’s Jarvis Landry’s first game at home.
It’s Denzel Ward’s first game at home.
It’s Corey Coleman’s first return as a visiting player.
So much to see, Dez Bryant might even hang around to check it out.
Bryant, the released Cowboys receiver-turned-Browns fan, completed a day-long visit on Thursday and though no contract was struck, word is the day was filled with positive vibes, befitting the tone of the 2018 training camp.
Bryant autographed Browns helmets and made an impromptu appearance on the club’s daily radio program on ESPN 850 WKNR.
“I'm happy to be here, you know excited, you know just trying to work out some things,” Bryant said.
The Browns are trying to gauge whether they want to bring in another dominant personality and questionable character to the receivers’ room. Bryant peaked in 2014 with 1,320 receiving yards and an NFL-high 16 touchdowns. His bests in the past three seasons have been 69 receptions and 838 yards (in 2017) and eight touchdowns (2016).
In an interesting sidelight in episode 2 of Hard Knocks, a Browns’ analytics department employee didn’t seem to have as high opinion of Bryant as GM John Dorsey.
If Bryant isn’t signed by Friday, it’s possible another good performance by the Browns’ young, developmental receivers – Antonio Callaway, Rashard Higgins, Damion Ratley, C.J. Board, Da’Mari Scott – could end their courtship of Bryant.
Things I want to see
1. Extended playing time for Coleman.
The 2016 Browns first-round bust came off in Hard Knocks as a whining baby, complaining to Hue Jackson about being demoted to second team behind Callaway. His feeble request to be traded wasn’t the impetus to his trade to Buffalo, but the final straw.
Coleman did not play in Buffalo’s first preseason game. He should get plenty of reps on Friday.
Ward v. Coleman? They hardly matched up in camp because Ward was always covering better – Landry or Callaway.
2. More time for Taylor.
Statistically perfect in his first preseason outing, Taylor insists this second game isn’t about him gaining revenge on the team that benched him during a playoff run and then traded him after it.
But he did affirm that the demise of his three-year run in Buffalo motivates him this season – just not for one game.
Taylor and the first-team offense is expected to play into the second quarter.
3. Mayfield’s encore.
The No. 1 pick was precocious in his preseason debut, displaying poise, veteran-like awareness in the pocket, and terrific accuracy with his arm.
Mayfield may play into the fourth quarter. An improved performance would intensify the buzz about him.
Did you know ...?
1. Bills receivers coach Terry Robiskie is entering his 41st season as an NFL player or coach. He was Browns receivers coach from 2001 to 2006, and became Browns interim head coach during the 2004 season when Butch Davis suffered a panic attack before a game against the Bengals and then negotiated a release as head coach.
2. Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll left as Nick Saban’s top offensive assistant at Alabama to re-boot his NFL coaching career. Daboll was Eric Mangini’s offensive coordinator with the Browns in 2009-10.
3. The Bills’ top two quarterbacks could have been Browns – A.J. McCarron and Josh Allen. Instead of signing McCarron in free agency, the Browns traded for Taylor as their bridge quarterback. Allen was thought to be a strong consideration of Dorsey for the No. 1 pick. When the Browns chose Mayfield, the Bills moved up five spots to take Allen No. 7 overall. They gave up two second-round picks for a flame-thrower with accuracy issues.