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3 Big Takeaways: Rookies carry Browns to first preseason win

The rookies carried the show for the Browns in their first preseason win


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Browns began their preseason with a 24-13 win over the Jaguars on Friday at TIAA Bank Stadium.

Here are three things that stood out most from the win.

Huge debuts from Browns' rookie class

The performances from several Browns' rookies couldn't have been much better.

The biggest play by the group — and all Browns players, arguably — was from CB M.J. Emerson Jr. The third-rounder ripped a short pass out of the hands of WR Jeff Cotton, then stiff-armed RB Snoop Conner and juked away from QB C.J. Beathard for an impressive 74-yard pick-six.

Emerson's interception highlighted everything the Browns liked about him when they drafted him in the third round — specifically, his length and physicality at the line of scrimmage. The Browns loved his 80-inch wingspan and 6-foot-2 frame, which undoubtedly helped him stay close to Cotton and squeeze his arm between him to pry the ball into his grasp.

"I think (my physicality) helped me with that," Emerson said. "I pride myself on being physical. At the line, I was real sturdy and was being physical, trying to get my hands on. If I wasn't with my technique, I probably wouldn't have made that play."

Aside from Emerson, fifth-round rookie Jerome Ford also turned in a big night with 10 carries for 57 yards and two touchdowns. He broke off a huge 41-yard run that set himself up for a three-yard run into the end zone to give the Browns their first points of the night in the second quarter. In the third quarter, he caught a 12-yard pass from QB Josh Dobbs that highlighted his versatility and overall depth the Browns have in the running back room.

It wasn't a perfect performance since he fumbled in the fourth quarter, but he still showed plenty of power from the backfield.

"It was great to be able to show I could catch the ball well and be able to run the ball," Ford said. "Big shoutout to the O-Line, locking that up for me."

The Browns also received contributions from fourth-rounder K Cade York, who hit all three extra points and a field goal from 31 yards. Seventh-round DE Isaiah Thomas also recorded two sacks to round out a stellar night from the rookie class.

"I'd say the rookies in general, I was pretty pleased with them," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "With MJ making that play, Cade was good tonight and then Jerome had a couple great runs."

Check out photos of the Browns against the Jaguars in week one of the preseason

Offense will grow from rough start

The debut of QB Deshaun Watson did not go as planned, but Stefanski said the performance will help them make the adjustments necessary to get better.

Watson went 1-for-5 with for seven yards — a completion to TE David Njoku — on the first three series of the game. WR Anthony Schwartz had two drops, RB D'Ernest Johnson had a fumble and the offense failed to pick up a first down.

The Browns did sit a few notable offensive players in WR Amari Cooper, RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, G Joel Bitonio and OT Jack Conklin, but the expectations were certainly higher for the group with Watson leading them in his Browns debut. The seven passing yards were the only yards the Browns mustered in the first quarter before all backups were entered for the start of the second quarter.

"We just have to be better as an offense early," Stefanski said. "It's our first game out there, and I think you can tell. For us, we'll knock some rust back and get back to work.

"This is all part of the process for us. We're making mistakes. It's sloppy, and now it's my job and our job to get it cleaned up."

Browns await update on Harris

To make matters worse for the offense, center Nick Harris was carted off the field with a right knee injury after the second play of the game with a knee injury and was replaced by Ethan Pocic.

Harris, a 2020 fifth-round pick, was expected to replace longtime center JC Tretter at the position and practically lived at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus to prepare for his biggest season yet. Stefanski said the Browns will have Harris take an MRI on Saturday.

"I'll be able to update you tomorrow," Stefanski said.

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