The Browns closed the preseason by hanging on for a 20-16 win over the Detroit Lions, wrapping up the practice games and shifting attention to trimming the roster down to 53.
“This is the toughest part of the year, from the standpoint of our business,” head coach Freddie Kitchens said of the upcoming cut-down day. “There’s a lot of decisions tomorrow. It’s gonna be emotional for them, emotional for us. We’ve asked them to do things over the past four or five months and they’ve never batted an eye. And I commend them for that.”
Before we get there, though, allow us to first recap our big takeaways from the game as we prepare for cut-down day.
Check out photos of the Detroit Lions at Cleveland Browns by team photographer Matt Starkey
1. Devaroe Lawrence keeps trending upward
We wrote about him earlier this week after his two-sack outing against Tampa Bay, and in case anyone was unsure, it wasn’t just a stroke of luck. Those of us who have watched this team practice daily know Lawrence is poised for something greater than he’s achieved in his football career thus far. He reminded everyone else of this with the first defensive play of the night.
On first-and-10 from Detroit’s 24, Tom Savage took the snap from under center, dropped back and was immediately sacked by Lawrence. Savage didn’t even have time to survey the field before an unblocked Lawrence placed him on the turf.
“He wasted no time tonight. He kind of wanted to show everybody that wasn’t a fluke,” Kitchens said of Lawrence. “I think he certainly did that.
“I was very impressed with Devaroe. Devaroe carried the practices over to the games. He was the same way in practice. I’m always happy when guys do that. What you see in practice is what you see in the game. I just want to know what we’re going to get when we cross the white lines. I know what I’m getting from him.”
Lawrence has been a nightmarish force along the interior for opposing offenses in recent weeks, finishing the preseason with four sacks. As a rotational player, Lawrence can keep the pressure on when Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi need a break. As he said earlier this week, “they're good players, but you know, uh, they run out of oxygen, too.”
Lawrence has shown he will be there with plenty of air to deflate opposing offenses all season long.
2. Austin Seibert proved it wasn’t a fluke
After making all four of his attempts against Tampa Bay, Seibert got another full game of work and again made the most of it.
Seibert drilled his first field goal attempt from 36 yards and later made two extra points in convincing fashion. His only scare of the night came on his last field goal attempt from 33 yards, which started to bend left but snuck inside the left upright to extend his consecutive field goals made streak to six.
The total for the night: four attempted kicks, and four makes.
It’s remarkable to consider, but three weeks after his kicking struggles elicited disdain from the fans at FirstEnergy Stadium, Seibert drew choruses of cheers with each of his kicks. For the first time this preseason, it feels as though there might be an answer at the position.
Kitchens was predictably noncommittal afterward, and explained his choice of Seibert over Greg Joseph for the final preseason game with a simple answer:
“He went four-of-four so he got another chance, ya know?” Kitchens said.
We do know. We’ll see who ends up on the roster come Monday.
3. Browns are in good hands with Chubb and Hilliard
Outside of the steadiest player on the team, Nick Chubb, there’s been a healthy amount of change in the backfield during this camp. Some of that was by design, and some was by good scouting and honest work.
Dontrell Hilliard saw his first preseason action since Week 1, which was a forgettable outing against Washington that saw him fumble the ball on the goal line. He did no such thing Thursday, finishing with 65 yards rushing on 12 attempts and two receptions for 13 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps the most remarkable of all was the route run by Hilliard on the goal line, a sharp zig that created enough space for him to score.
D’Ernest Johnson followed suit with one reception for 7 yards, but his contribution is more about the preseason as a composition, not Thursday night. Overall, Kitchens likes what he has.
“We’ve been comfortable with our backfield for a while,” Kitchens said. We think D’Ernest can play, we think Dontrell can play, we think Trayone (Gray) gives us some things and I think Uno (A.J. Ouellette) gives us some things.”
Of course, all of the aforementioned running backs can’t make the final 53-man roster. Chubb is at the front of the pack as the clearly determined lead runner, and Hilliard exists as a multidimensional spell back. The surprise is Johnson, who did enough in camp and the preseason to warrant his likely inclusion.
With Hunt out until Week 10, the Browns will need to lean on the depth provided by Hilliard and Johnson. Thursday night proved Hilliard’s early struggles were nothing to fret. They’ll be just fine at running back.