Tonight’s third preseason game for the Cleveland Browns is traditionally referred to as the dress rehearsal for the regular season. The Browns starters will see action into the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Tonight’s game will be even more important for some members of the Browns and could provide a sample of what to expect later on in the regular season.
One guy who needs to play in tonight’s game is wide receiver Terrelle Pryor. The former quarterback has missed the majority of the last three weeks with a nagging hamstring injury. There is a possibility Pryor maybe held out of the game, but the entire organization knows how much they need to see him in a game situation to see his progression in becoming a wide receiver in the NFL.
“We know he’s a project. We understand that,” head coach Mike Pettine said. “We’re not expecting him to go out there and light it up and catch 10 balls for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Just continue to get better. At the beginning to just make that decision and come into a training camp and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to switch my position,’ our expectations weren’t real high for him by the end of training camp to be a viable player at wide out. We understand it’s a process. It’s just been unfortunate with the injury, the setbacks that we haven’t been able to get as good of an evaluation as we wanted.”
“I just think it’s getting on the field and getting some plays, getting some reps,” Pryor said. “I think that’s the tough situation right now is that I haven’t been on the field. They see it in practice, but we haven’t seen it in a game. That’s the situation. That’s where we’re at. I don’t really know the answer to give you guys because I don’t know. All I can do every day is be here early, on time for my therapy. Stay upbeat in the meetings, ask questions and keep on staying on the vets in terms of their routes and stuff that I felt I need to work on and that’s all I can really do. I can’t do anything else.”
The Browns will also get to see veteran wide receiver Dwayne Bowe for the first time in a game. Just like Pryor, Bowe, the former Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver, has missed the Browns scrimmage and the two preseason home games with a hamstring injury. Bowe returned to practice last Saturday and should help out quarterback Josh McCown and the passing game.
The battle for the starting running back job is something to watch tonight with rookie Duke Johnson expected to see his first action this preseason. The Browns third round draft pick has also been out for the majority of training camp with a hamstring injury. While the thought heading into training camp was to feature Johnson along with Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, the Browns need to see how Johnson handles his first action as an NFL running back.
“Duke has been great. We have gradually ramped up his reps, and he has looked good,” Pettine said. “There are certain plays, you get to the point where you work on your basic install, but then as training starts to wind down, you have certain plays for certain guys, and we have been holding some because it was more matched to Duke’s skillset. We have been able to practice. So far, so good.”
McCown will be returning to a familiar stadium tonight, but one he might want to forget. McCown started last season as the Buccaneers quarterback and struggled before being replaced by Mike Glennon. Tampa Bay is now lead by number one overall pick Jameis Winston. McCown has moved on from the struggles of last year and ready to lead the Browns in 2015.
“I have great relationships with the players and coaches there,” McCown said. “We didn’t get done what we wanted to get done there, obviously. It is another game. Another opportunity for the Browns to get better. Kind of moved on from that standpoint. It is not like I was there for ten years. I was there for a year. I am just focused on what we are doing and us trying to improve.”
McCown should play the majority of the game not just as the number one quarterback. With Johnny Manziel out with a sore throwing elbow, the Browns depth at quarterback is a little thin. Thad Lewis is currently the backup with Manziel out. Pet Devlin was signed this week but isn’t going to be ready to play baring any more injuries. McCown may not feel tonight is a big test for him, but he wants to get some things accomplished on offense.
“You get extended work in it and it can be viewed that way, but at the same time – I would be interested to look and see if you go out and win the third preseason game you are going to have a great year and if you don’t – I think you just want to go out and get efficient work and continue to build,” McCown said. “It is important from that standpoint because you know you are going to be on the field longer and you get an opportunity to get in rhythms and put drives together.”
Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden will also see his first action this preseason. Haden has also been dealing with a hamstring injury. The Browns may have been overly cautious with one their best players on the entire roster, Haden is ready to get back on the field and see what the first string defense can do against a young Buccaneers offense.
“As long as we’re playing in there, get some three and outs,” Haden said. “We haven’t been able to get off the field on third down. Our run game, they’ve been able to stop the run pretty well, but on third and five, third and sixes and third and sevens, anything like that it’s on the secondary to be able to get off the field. The one thing I want us to do is, of course, stop the run and the secondary will be able to make plays on third down to get off the field.”
Usually this time of year, you expect the weather to be sunny and hot along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico in central Florida. That might not be the case at some point in tonight’s game. While the eye of tropical storm Erika isn’t expected to hit the state of Florida until Sunday, rain from it could impact the game. It could make for an interesting and perhaps sloppy dress rehearsal for a team that will play football in different types of weather conditions as the season rolls on.
The Browns enter tonight’s game at 0-2 with home losses to Washington and Buffalo. The Buccaneers are 1-1 this preseason. Tonight will be the eighth time the Browns and Buccaneers will meet in the preseason. The Browns are 3-4 in the previous seven matchups. The last time Cleveland and Tampa played in the preseason was in 2001. The Browns won 7-6 at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The last time the Browns made a preseason visit to Tampa Bay was in 1999. The Browns lost 30-3.
The Browns and Buccaneers played last season in week nine at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns won 22-17. Taylor Gabriel caught a 34-yard touchdown pass from Brian Hoyer with 8:59 remaining in the game for the winning score. Last years win snapped a three game regular season losing streak to the Buccaneers for the Browns. The two teams have played nine times in the regular season with the Browns holding a 6-3 advantage in the series.
Browns fans throughout most of the state of Ohio will be able to watch the game live. In Cleveland, you can catch the game on the Browns new television home, WEWS Newschannel 5. In Columbus tune into WBNS 10TV. Toledo residents can watch the game on WTOL channel 11. In Youngstown, the game will be broadcast on WYTV Channel 33. Dayton residents get the game on WHIO channel 7. Veteran NFL play by play voice Mike Patrick will have the play by play. Solomon Wilcots will serve as the color commentator. The Browns radio network will also air the game throughout the buckeye state. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.