Five questions about the Browns' second preseason game

Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for 850 ESPN Cleveland.


As they hit the halfway point of the preseason with practice game 2 against the Indianapolis Colts, the Browns have issues, but so far no real adversity.

Yes, right guard and place-kicker remain undecided. Yes, Odell Beckham Jr. practices sparingly and probably will not see the field in a preseason game.

But rookie coach Freddie Kitchens sure seems to be accomplishing what he set out to do in his first training camp – melding his talented roster into a team.

Two joint practices against the Indianapolis Colts this week ended in a pronounced success. Starters generally won their battles and the team rallied behind Kitchens’ command to practice with an edge.

In the waning days of a grueling training camp, the Browns are responding to their popular coach.

“I’m excited for the direction,” Beckham said on Thursday. “I can feel it from you guys, from the fans, from the team. They’re excited about the season. First time in the stadium, I could feel that energy. We’re going to be ready when it’s time.”

Here are five questions about the Browns’ second preseason game:

1. What are Kitchens’ plans for play time against the Colts?

He wouldn’t say, of course. First-teamers got a healthy dose of work in the two practices and came away fairly unscathed. Some game time should be the reward for that work.

Players who didn’t work on Thursday shouldn’t be expected to play. These include Beckham, linebacker Sione Takitaki, defensive tackle Devereaux Lawrence, tight end David Njoku, running back Dontrell Hilliard, cornerback Denzel Ward, cornerback T.J. Carrie, receiver Antonio Callaway and defensive end Chad Thomas.

You would expect Kitchens to play the regulars longer than the one series they received against Washington – perhaps the full first quarter.

2. What will Kitchens seek to accomplish with the first-team offense?

Against the Redskins, the Browns worked on their two-minute attack and executed it to near-perfection. This time, they may want to polish their running game.

In the practice week, running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt shone. Aside from Baker Mayfield, who was particularly sharp throwing the ball, Chubb and Hunt were the offensive stars of the joint sessions.

Giving Chubb and Hunt the ball provide the added benefit of exercising the offensive line and further evaluating the right guard situation.

If the coaches see the necessary physical play out of Eric Kush, it may save GM John Dorsey from doing something he wants to avoid – disrupting two positions. It is a critical time in deciding whether the answer is on the roster or outside it.

3. What is the state of the kicking situation?

Both Greg Joseph and Austin Seibert had good weeks, providing some much-needed calm after Joseph missed a PAT against Washington.

There is the palpable feeling the organization would love to see Seibert earn the job; it used a fifth-round draft choice on him, after all. But neither kicker has yet to infuse the team with full confidence in him.

Opportunities for field goals are random, of course. But the way this competition is proceeding, a missed PAT could be fatal.

4. Which backup players have the most to gain, or lose?

Rookie offensive lineman Drew Forbes drew Kitchens’ praise this week. He earned sporadic first-team reps at right guard in red zone periods. Another good game could vault him into contention for the starting job.

Return specialist Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi was electric in his preseason debut. But a few drops at receiver in the practice week stunted his improved chances of earning a roster spot. He needs to prove he can be trusted as a sixth, or seventh, receiver.

Newly arrived tight end Rico Gathers received a crash course in the offense in his first week. An opportunity behind Njoku and Demetrius Harris definitely exists.

New fullback Joe Kerridge has the opportunity to replace departed Orson Charles as the lead blocking back. He was on the field when Chubb energized the offense with a 65-yard touchdown run on Thursday.

Safety J.T. Hassell has quietly impressed everyone on special teams and in stints on defense. He clearly is in the handful of players competing for some of the last spots on the roster.

With Callaway inactive with a high ankle sprain and facing a four-game suspension, the receiver spots after Beckham, Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins are hotly contested. Jaelen Strong has had more consistent days than Derrick Willies. The new riser is D.J. Montgomery. Damion Ratley, who finally returned to the practice field on Thursday after three weeks out with a hamstring injury, may not see game action until next week in Tampa.

5. What’s interesting about the Colts?

Their return to the playoffs rest on the health of quarterback Andrew Luck, of course, and that won’t be resolved for weeks.

More immediately, the Colts have a score to settle with the Browns. They were whipped on their own field on Thursday. How they respond in the game on Saturday will say something about the character of their squad.