The Browns will have the treat of playing in the first NFL game of the preseason Thursday night against the Jets in Canton — and possessing one extra preseason game to evaluate depth players and young talent on the roster.
That last part is the core angle for most of the top questions the Browns will look to answer in the Hall of Fame Game, where most, if not all starters will be given a rest day. The game will hold significant opportunities for everyone else vying for a spot on the 53-man roster, and there are still a few questions the Browns will face as they begin their preseason.
1. How well do Mond, Thompson-Robinson perform in their Browns debuts?
QB Kellen Mond is set to open the first half and throw his first passes as a Browns quarterback since the team claimed him off waivers last August from the Vikings. Mond hasn't played in a game since he saw preseason action with Minnesota last season, and he spent his first year with the Browns as the third-string quarterback.
For Mond, it's a chance to show that his year of learning behind Deshaun Watson, Jacoby Brissett and Joshua Dobbs has translated into growth. He's completed a few nice passes throughout camp, including one ball that WR Cedric Tillman made a brilliant diving catch to snag in a simulated two-minute drill period in Tuesday's practice.
"I think just learning the offense, obviously," Mond said when asked about his progression. "This is my third offense in the NFL, and just getting with Kevin (Stefanski), AVP (Alex Van Pelt) and just learning how I can get better with my fundamentals, how I can continue to be accurate and make good decisions with the football."
Rookie QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson will be under center for the second half and make his NFL debut. Drafted in the fifth round out of UCLA last spring, Thompson-Robinson has thrown with good zip since he began taking team drill reps last week at The Greenbrier, and he'll have a chance to impress coaches if he continues to not only throw the ball well, but command the operation at the line of scrimmage.
"I'm really good when it comes to the cerebral side of football and being able to grasp a playbook, go out there and execute," he said. "But this is my first time having to call plays in the huddle, having to get it in a headset and being able to spit it out, and we don't have the shortest of play calls, so that's probably the number one thing I'm going to be focusing on for sure. Making sure I can get guys lined up and making sure that everybody's on the same page."
Check out photos of the team during the seventh day of Training Camp back at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus
2. What can Cedric Tillman do in his debut?
Of all the rookies, Tillman arguably has the best chance of carving the biggest role on the team at some point this year. He'll have several chances to show how he can use his 6-foot-3 frame to his advantage against NFL talent throughout the preseason, and he could be one of the first receivers to open the game with Mond.
Tillman has plenty of veterans that will likely be ahead of him on the WR depth chart, but the Browns still believe his size and strong hands could help their passing game this season. Those opportunities will only come, though, if Tillman displays trustworthy playmaking abilities in the preseason.
3. Will any other rookies stand out?
Every rookie will likely have a chance to play a significant part of Thursday's game. Third-round pick DT Siaki Ika and fourth-round selection DE Isaiah McGuire will be worth watching on the defensive line, which could hold sizable rotational roles for them if they perform well in the preseason. C Luke Wypler, a sixth-round pick, could also take a big chunk of reps depending on how the Browns handle the workload of C Nick Harris, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the first game of the last preseason.
CB Cameron Mitchell, who recorded an interception in Tuesday's practice, and OT Dawand Jones, who is the biggest player on the roster at 6-foot-8, are also in line to make their Browns debuts.
4. How does the new defensive system work?
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Tuesday that the defense was "not ready yet" but that the game would be a "big step" for the young players who will receive reps. It's hard to blame Schwartz's assessment after the Browns have had just three padded practices, which is the only practice setting where defenders can use their full array of tools.
Playing in a real game will be crucial for Schwartz to continue assessing how the defense has grasped his system, which is predicated on placing relentless pressure on the QB and trusting the secondary to play sound man coverage. Even though it won't be Myles Garrett or Za'Darius Smith attacking the QB or Denzel Ward or Greg Newsome II covering receivers, it'll still be a solid litmus test for the Browns to see the potential of a Schwartz-led defense.
5. Can a RB flash?
One of the more entertaining positions to watch could be at running back, where Nick Chubb and Jerome Ford likely won't receive many, if any snaps.
Ford, a second-year veteran, could still suit up and take carries, but his preseason workload could be saved for the final three games. The spots behind are still important and will feature a competition between Demetric Felton Jr., John Kelly Jr., Nate McCrary and Hassan Hall.
Felton, in particular, will be worth watching as he'll likely receive his biggest rushing workload of his career during the preseason. He had mainly been used at receiver since the Browns drafted him in the sixth round in 2021.