Here are the five areas to which I will be paying the closest attention in the Cleveland Browns' preseason game against the St. Louis Rams Saturday night at FirstEnergy Stadium:
Brian Hoyer taking ownership of the starting quarterback job. It isn't enough that he has been named the starter. He now must show that he is the starter in everything he does – how he performs and how he handles himself on and off the field. Hoyer has insisted he wasn't distracted by the competition with Duke Johnson Jr., but his play, particularly in Monday night's game against Washington, seemed to reflect otherwise. He can do plenty to enhance the confidence of his coaches and teammates by looking the part of a No. 1 quarterback in every possible way. And the biggest is leading his first touchdown drive of the summer.
Vast improvement at wide receiver. This group has struggled throughout training camp and two preseason games. We have not seen enough separation from coverage. We have seen far too many passes dropped. The overall effort of the Browns' receivers has been mediocre to poor, and it needs to change. Immediately.
Continued high-level play by the defense. The Browns have established that they legitimately could rank in the top five in the NFL on defense. They gave their most impressive showing of the preseason against the Redskins, who were stonewalled by a goal-line stand that seemingly served notice to the rest of the league that the Browns have the mentality and the ability to stand up to any physical challenge – even in a game that doesn't count. Two of the most encouraging performances have come from end Armonty Bryant and rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert, who held up exceptionally well in his NFL debut Monday night.
Ben Tate building upon his showing against the Redskins. After a fairly ordinary training camp and preseason-opener at Detroit, Tate ran with authority against Washington. He showed that he's the right choice to be the primary back in the Browns' run-oriented scheme. Tate demonstrated that he has the necessary patience to allow openings to occur in the outside-zone-blocking scheme but also the necessary quickness to plant his foot and cut to the hole in a split second. Rookie Terrance West has considerable raw ability and also figures to be a solid contributor to the Browns' rushing attack, but he still has much more to learn, especially as a blocker.
More solid protection and run-blocking by the starting offensive line. Hoyer enjoyed a fairly air-tight pocket against the Lions and was mostly well protected against the Redskins. If the line is able to keep him upright and clean in this game, it will be a major accomplishment because the Rams have one of the very best defensive fronts in the NFL. >>Be sure to tune in Monday through Friday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET, for "Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford" on ESPN 850 WKNR or catch the live stream right here on ClevelandBrowns.com. We take your questions at 216-578-0850 and via Twitter @Browns_Daily.