The Browns' first preseason game of the year will begin with a true regular season feel.
That's because both the Browns and Jaguars will have starters on the field to at least start Friday's game at 7 p.m. at TIAA Bank Stadium. The Browns announced Wednesday they’ll open the game deploying most of their starters, while Jaguars coach Doug Pederson also said Jacksonville will give his starting players some action.
A few notable players are expected to make their Browns debut as a result, which presents us with a few big questions that should be answered by the end of Friday night.
How will the Browns use Watson in his debut?
Three-time Pro Bowl QB Deshaun Watson is expected to start, which will give the Browns their first chance to see Watson's talents in a real-game scenario since they acquired him in a trade with the Texans in March.
It'll also be their first opportunity to roll out any new offensive tweaks they've been able to incorporate in the playbook because of his unique skill set. He's mobile and has a strong arm, and we've seen glimpses of how the Browns will try to maximize those traits in training camp via bootlegs, play action passes and other creative plays that are only possible with a shifty QB. Watson is capable of carrying the ball himself and gaining yards even when a pass play breaks down, too.
The Browns can be creative and efficient with Watson, and we'll see a small sample size Friday of how they plan to do that.
What other starters play, and how do they look?
The starters will likely only be in for a few series, but there will be new players to watch and returning players in new roles worth monitoring.
Watson was the only player who was named as an expected starter on the offense, but others who could join him include WRs Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones, RB Nick Chubb and most, if not all of the starting O-Line. A debut from Cooper, who was acquired in a trade with the Cowboys in March, would provide an exciting opportunity to see what chemistry he's built so far with Watson.
On defense, we could have our first look at Taven Bryan and Jordan Elliott, who have taken first-team reps so far at DT and would be the only two new starters on the defense this year. CB Greg Newsome II has handled the bulk of slot duties in training camp and would be worth watching in that role if he starts Friday as well, and that would likely leave Greedy Williams as the top CB on the outside, if he plays.
How much will the Browns test York?
Cade York, the 2022 fourth-round draft pick from LSU, is one "starting" player who will be available for the whole game.
He's the only kicker on the roster, and the Browns are hoping to provide him with plenty of field goal opportunities during the three preseason games. His leg strength, accuracy and mental fortitude has been evident in camp practices — he nailed a 45-yard field goal in front of the team earlier this week to end practice and allow players to skip post-practice meetings — and the Browns will certainly want to give him a chance to add confidence throughout the heading into the regular season.
York has made a few kicks from 50 or more yards so far in training camp. How many chances will the Browns give him to kick from those distances in the preseason? We'll discover part of that answer Friday.
Which other rookies are worth monitoring?
Third-rounders CB M.J. Emerson Jr. and DE Alex Wright, fourth-rounder DT Perrion Winfrey and fifth-rounder RB Jerome Ford are among the rookies the Browns selected in the draft who could see a good chunk of snaps. Stefanski said Tuesday he hadn't made a decision yet on whether third-round WR David Bell will play after he opened camp on the active/PUP list and was activated last Saturday.
Other rookies include seventh-rounders DE Isaiah Thomas and C Dawson Deaton. Sixth-round WR Michael Woods II, who was one of the early standouts in camp, has not practiced in the last week due to a hamstring injury.