The Browns arrived in Jacksonville on Saturday eager to see how their rookies and non-starters would fare in their first preseason game of 2021, and they left TIAA Bank Stadium pleased with what they saw in a 23-13 win.
The offense, led by QBs Case Keenum and Kyle Lauletta, paced the Browns to three field goals and two trips to the end zone while the defense, playing without several of the players added to overhaul the unit over the offseason, prevented the Jaguars from finding the end zone on all but two drives.
"I thought the guys competed hard," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "We got some really good reps out there to teach off of. I appreciated how the guys competed."
Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt didn't play on the offense — nor did the starters from the offensive line. Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Jadeveon Clowney, John Johnson III and several of the other top additions to the defense didn't play, either.
The rookies, however, did play — those who were healthy, at least — and turned in a few noteworthy performances.
First-rounder CB Greg Newsome II matched up with WR Marvin Jones during the first quarter and was targeted heavily, allowing three catches on four targets for 52 yards. Second-rounder LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah recorded a sack, eight tackles and a quarterback hit, while sixth-round S Richard LeCounte III amassed an interception and two pass deflections. Demetric Felton, who has played at both receiver and running back so far in camp, played primarily as a receiver and registered four catches for 44 yards.
Owusu-Koramoah, in particular, stood out most among all Browns players. He said earlier last week that he felt as though he was catching up to the speed of the NFL after he was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and missed the first five practices of training camp.
He was hopeful to receive a heavy amount of snaps Saturday night. The Browns gave him plenty, and he delivered, leading the defense in tackles and showcasing the quickness the Browns loved about him when they traded up to draft him in the second round.
"That's what he's done in practice," Stefanski said. "He plays at a very high speed. He's twitchy and he defeats blocks. He did a nice job."
With Mayfield out, the Browns opened the game with Keenum at quarterback and managed to score the first points thanks to a 56-yard drive that ended with a 37-yard field goal from Chase McLaughlin. Wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones was arguably the most impressive offensive starter — which wasn't much of a surprise after the hot start he's built in training camp — and hauled in three catches for 26 yards, including an impressive one-handed catch where he secured the ball to his right shoulder.
"I'm excited to watch that on film," Keenum said. "I had to throw that early, but he did a greta job of winning against pretty tight man-coverage. He knows where to line up, and he knows what's expected on different plays and different routes. He's not a rookie anymore, and he's playing like it."
Cleveland led 13-0 at the end of the first half after adding a 34-yard field goal from Cody Parkey and completing an impressive 22-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Lauletta to receiver Davion Davis, who was signed to the Browns during the first week of training camp. He caught the first touchdown of the preseason after making a leaping grab over a defender and tapping both feet in the end zone to secure the six points.
Trevor Lawrence, the first overall pick of the 2021 draft, made his Jaguars debut and went 6-of-9 for 71 yards and was sacked twice. Browns DT Sheldon Day started Lawrence's night with a strip sack that was recovered from Jacksonville.
The defense held the Jaguars off the scoreboard until the first play of the fourth quarter, when CJ Beathard hit Tavon Austin for a five-yard touchdown. Jacksonville, down 16-6, opted for a two-point conversion that was again targeted for Austin, but the pass was incomplete.
The Browns milked over 10 minutes off the clock — their longest drive of the game — on the following possession and ended the drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to WR Ryan Switzer to put the Browns up 23-6. The Jaguars added a touchdown in the final minute to bring the score to 23-13, but by that point, the result had already been decided.
Three players left the game with injuries: LB Mack Wilson (shoulder), TE Stephen Carlson (knee) and CB Kiondre Thomas (hamstring) all exited the game early.
The Browns are back in Cleveland for Week 2 of the preseason and will welcome the New York Giants — who will participate with the Browns in two joint practices at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus — next Sunday for a 1 p.m. kickoff at FirstEnergy Stadium.