Schobert 'earned the right' to start
There wasn't a specific moment when it all clicked for Joe Schobert. The rookie linebacker simply felt himself getting more and more comfortable with what the Browns were asking from him. [
Plays like his sack in Cleveland's preseason finale were a byproduct of that approach. And his ascendance up the depth chart following that performance served as affirmation he was doing what he needed to do to secure immediate playing time at outside linebacker.
"Just knowing my job, coming in as a rookie, you have to know the schematics first," Schobert said. "That is the biggest thing. I think I was able to get that down and impress them. They knew that I knew what I was doing on the field. I think that is the biggest thing."
Schobert, for the first time since the start of training camp, is slotted as a first-teamer at outside linebacker entering Sunday's season opener. He'll be on the opposite side of the field from fellow rookie, Emmanuel Ogbah, with second-year player Nate Orchard backing him up.
The fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin was initially pegged as a player who could help the Browns as both an outside and inside linebacker, but his play and the state of Cleveland's outside linebacker room allowed him to remain at the spot at which he played most of his collegiate career.
"He did what we asked him to do. At the end of the day, that's our calling card here," Browns coach Hue Jackson said. "Players that play the way we want them to play. Not that Nate didn't, just maybe Joe did it to a level that we had expectation. Not that Nate's not going to play. He's going to play. He has to but at the same time, we think that Joe, he earned that right to be the starter at that position."
More than the quarterback
With buzz swirling about rookie quarterback Carson Wentz making his NFL debut against the Browns on Sunday, Jackson said it was imperative Cleveland's defense focus on every facet of the Eagles' offense -- not just the guy throwing the ball.
Jackson named off a number of Philadelphia's offensive starters -- a group that includes veteran center and Cleveland native Jason Kelce, veteran left tackle Jason Peters and athletic wide receivers Jordan Matthews and Dorial Green-Beckham -- as he explained the philosophy Cleveland needs to embrace.
"It is the first game so you really never know exactly what you are going to get until the game starts," Jackson said. "Our guys have to prepare for everything and react to everything. That is what we are trying to do. I'm sure there team is doing the same when it comes to us. No one knows, really. I'm sure nobody is going to look at the preseason and think we were a juggernaut or anything like that, so that's fine. We are going to show who we are come this Sunday."
'New year, new team'
A similar sentiment was expressed by members of Cleveland's defense, who flourished last season in their only start against a rookie quarterback -- who also happened to be the No. 2 pick.
"It is a new year. It is a new team, new season," safety Jordan Poyer said. "We have to treat every team, every game with respect, every opponent with respect. Carson Wentz does have the most respect in our defensive room, and that is how we are preparing."
In last year's home opener, the Browns brought relentless pressure on Tennessee's Marcus Mariota, forcing him into seven sacks and two fumbles in his second career start.
In their evaluation of Wentz, the Browns have seen a quarterback capable of making plays, no matter the stage of his career.
"He is a very, very, very high draft pick," veteran defensive back Joe Haden said. "They obviously saw something in him. He is a big dude. He can run the ball. I saw he did well in college. He didn't play at a D-I school, but they obviously see a lot in him. We are definitely excited to go out there and try to mix it up. Young quarterback, he is not really experienced and hasn't seen too many different defenses so just going to try and disguise and go after it."
A defense to respect
The Eagles' defense has plenty of name recognition, and it starts with nose tackle Fletcher Cox. Jackson said "there's a reason" why Cox is one of the highest-paid players at his position, and that's "because he's pretty good."
But the Eagles' defense, led by coordinator Jim Schwartz, enter the season with a bit of momentum because of the players around Cox. Philadelphia did not surrender a touchdown in three of its four preseason games and was, by far, the league's best rush defense, allowing just 46.8 yards per contest.
That's a big step in the right direction for a run defense that ranked 32 of 32 in the league last season. Though preseason results don't necessarily translate to the season, the Browns are firm believers in what they see on tape from Philadelphia's defense.
"They are good. They are well-coached. They play hard. They play good and have good players. That is the making of a good defensive football team," Jackson said. "It is a tremendous challenge, but it is like that every week in the National Football League. We get it. There are going to be great players that you face. We talked about Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham already – (Eagles DB) Nolan Carroll, the corners and the safeties, (Eagles S) Malcolm Jenkins – they have good players, but I don't think there is another team we are going to play that doesn't have good players or great players. We have to rise up and play. That is just the name of the game in the National Football League."
Eagles coach Doug Pederson, on a conference call with Browns reporters Wednesday, said he is preparing as if right tackle Lane Johnson will be available for Sunday's season opener.
Johnson, who has been a regular starter since he was a rookie in 2013, has been waiting for months to hear on a ruling from the NFL on a potential violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.
"We did take a couple of games there in training camp and work some guys in different spots in case something happens down the road, but right now, we are back to full strength, back to normal," Pederson said. "Until I hear something from the league officially, that is going to be our game plan."
Nine-year veteran Allen Barbre is listed behind Johnson on the Eagles' Week 1 depth chart.