The Browns will land in sunny Tampa Bay, Florida, on Friday afternoon and play their third preseason game on the 2015 docket against the Buccaneers on Saturday night.
The warmth of the weather isn't the only thing heating up with the Browns. On Sept. 1, Cleveland will have to trim the roster from 90 to 75 players. A lot of those decisions could be based on how the team fares against Tampa Bay.
Duke Johnson's debut
With the way the Browns divvy up the carries still up in the air, no Cleveland player has a bigger opportunity to craft his regular season role against the Buccaneers than Johnson. The 5-foot-9, 210-pounder has been nothing short of electric in practice. With fast-moving feet, precise vision of running lanes and soft hands, Johnson, on paper, is the playmaker Cleveland's offense greatly needs. Even with a pitch count on his snaps, Johnson will have a chance Saturday to show the coaching staff and the Dawg Pound the future of the Browns offense. If we see a couple of chunk yardage plays from Johnson as a running back, the competition for carries will get even more interesting.
Jameis Winston's legs vs. the Browns front seven
Last week, Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor gave the Browns defense fits on four carries for 41 yards. He saw breakdowns on Cleveland's edge and was calculated with his scrambles. The Browns will get a chance to redeem themselves against Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston. The No.1 overall pick is not known as a scrambler, but so far in the preseason, Winston has scored two rushing touchdowns.
Deep throws down the field on offense
Coach Mike Pettine has said outside of Josh McCown's two interceptions vs. Buffalo, the veteran quarterback has been extremely efficient in the preseason. But that was under some "vanilla play-calling." McCown's biggest strength in training camp was arguably his downfield, pinpoint accuracy. Since Cleveland treats the third preseason game as close to the regular season as possible, the Browns have installed a game plan to attack the Buccaneers. Watch for some potential down-the-field passes to deep threats Taylor Gabriel, Travis Benjamin – and maybe even Terrelle Pryor.
Scott Solomon returns to Tampa
The Buccaneers released Solomon last October and the Browns claimed the linebacker off waivers. At the time, it was considered a small transaction. What Cleveland didn't realize at the time was the 26-year-old would blossom into a core defensive player, especially as a run-stopper. Solomon's performance a week ago against Buffalo wasn't among his best, so expect the outside linebacker to lay the wood at Raymond James Stadium.
The tight ends
Who will make the team? Or better yet, how many tight ends will the Browns carry? Gary Barnidge has consistently ran with the first-team offense all summer – and he's grown as a pass catcher. Jim Dray is an asset to the team for his sturdy blocking. E.J. Bibbs has forced a whopping six missed tackles in two preseason games, while Rob Housler caught two passes against the Bills for 27 yards – and he has speed. Decisions could come down to who stands out against Tampa Bay.