5 players to watch in Browns vs. Lions

Some might say the fourth and final game of the preseason is meaningless, but those same people likely didn't make a jaunt north to the lakefront on a Thursday evening to take in some football on a late summer night on the off chance they might see the next great story in pro football.

We're not saying that will happen Thursday at FirstEnergy Stadium, but it has happened in an NFL stadium before. There is value in this game, even if the game's stars won't be participating. 

As such, one might need a guide to know what he or she is watching unfold on the field or on their TV screen. We're here to give you some players to keep an eye on as the practice game season wraps up.

Braxton Miller

Thanks to his background as a former star quarterback at Ohio State, Miller has received a good amount of attention since he signed with the Browns near the end of camp. He might get more after Thursday night'a game against the Detroit Lions.

Miller has flashed potential when catching passes in both games and practices in Berea. He should get an extended opportunity to do that at FirstEnergy Stadium for a team that definitely has space for a speedster with a high ceiling like Miller.

"I think he is picking up the offense," head coach Freddie Kitchens said of Miller this week. "That tells you a little bit about his learning ability. We will see if we can put him in some positions to make some plays Thursday night. He is doing well, though."

Expect quick passes to Miller with the intent of getting him the ball in space with room to make plays Thursday night. We'll see if he can break off a big one before cut-down day.

Check out the best photos from Browns Camp by team photographer Matt Starkey

Damion Ratley

Ratley injured his hamstring on the first day of camp and missed most of it as a result but returned to practice last week before sitting out against Tampa Bay. Kitchens explained the team didn't want to rush him back when it wasn't necessary.

It sounds as if this staff knows what it has in Ratley and doesn't need him to prove whether he's worth keeping, but he'll get some game action Thursday, his first of the preseason.

Ratley stood out almost immediately after he returned to practice, thanks to his physical attributes that make it easy to understand why the franchise has stuck with him through injury struggles. He should get a decent amount of reps in this game in preparation for the real thing next week, which leaves the door open for a big play. This one is more about seeing potential than wondering if he'll make the final 53.

D'Ernest Johnson

Johnson has received a ton of carries this preseason, primarily because of Nick Chubb's intentional in-game absence, Kareem Hunt's slow acclimation to game action and Dontrell Hilliard's struggle with injury. He's made the most of his opportunity and has an opening to make the final roster with Hunt being out for the first eight games due to suspension.

He can enter the exclusive 53-man club with a productive, mistake-free fourth game. He's already proven he's willing to give his all to make the team -- after all, he was working on a commercial fishing boat around this time last year -- including a crushing pass block in which he threw his body in front of a free rusher and the two blew each other up. It was clearly visible from the press level of Raymond James Stadium and an indication of how badly he wants to be on this team.

A trip to the end zone or a couple more displays of such desire could wrap that up.

Kickers

We saw Austin Seibert's efforts produce a flawless 4-for-4 outing against Tampa Bay, but we have one more game for a reason. We still need to come to a final conclusion on the kicking situation. 

At this point, one might surmise Seibert has a lead, thanks to the first notably positive performance from either he or Greg Joseph during this competition. But Joseph could bring himself to even or better with a similar performance, while Seibert could improve or diminish his own standing with a performance in either direction. 

Simply, there are still kicks to be attempted and a job to be won.

Seth DeValve

DeValve returned recently after missing a healthy chunk of camp with a concussion, and he's exploring the idea of playing more than just tight end. 

Reporters Tuesday peppered him with questions about serving as an H-back -- a tight end who also fills a traditional fullback role in certain situations -- during his most recent media session, and he had a surprise: He's been doing it since the start of camp. We've just noticed more because the Browns' previous go-to H-back, Orson Charles, was released during camp.

DeValve playing more than just tight end should increase his chances of making the team, in theory. We'll see if he can apply such thought to the field Thursday in a game in which he's likely to see plenty of playing time. The tight end group is no longer thin as it was in past years. With David Njoku and Demetrius Harris leading the way, the remaining tight ends -- DeValve, Pharaoh Brown, Stephen Carlson and Rico Gathers -- will have to battle to the very end to earn a spot alongside them.

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