With two weeks of preseason action complete, fans are likely gearing up for the pinnacle of the month before the games actually matter: Preseason Week 3.
Traditionally, teams build up to the third week of the preseason, giving starters a series or two in Week 1, approximately a full quarter in Week 2 and most of the Week 3 action. The third game is usually treated like a dress rehearsal for the group that will play the majority of the regular season snaps.
Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens doesn't subscribe to such thought. He values player improvement and game reps more than tradition.
"I look at it as part of the process of getting ready for the season," Kitchens said Sunday. "I'm not sold on the dress rehearsal thing. I just look at it as another opportunity to try to get better."
Check out the best photos from the Cleveland Browns win over the Indianapolis Colts yesterday
There are still plenty of players who have something to prove and will play plenty Friday. Positions are left to be determined, with right guard and kicker chiefly among them, and the staff is constantly evaluating the performance of each player on a daily basis.
"You may see something you hadn't seen in a guy up until then," Kitchens explained. "I think a couple of guys we've been playing in there are just now getting kind of comfortable, so we'll see. We've still got two games left and six practices, in theory, before we start preparation."
Eric Kush has received the starting reps at the position in the last two weeks and appears to have a lead in the competition, if not a grasp on the job. Austin Corbett has exclusively played second-team center, which is more the staff aiming for establishing reliable, quality depth along the interior than an indication that Corbett has lost the job. Kitchens said Sunday that Corbett is "still in the mix."
Rookie Drew Forbes took second-team snaps at both right and left guard against the Colts in what has been a steady rise for the first-year player, who has spent his first months of his NFL career transitioning inside after playing left tackle in college. He's still seeing occasional tackle reps, too, but it's pretty clear he's going to be a guard in the NFL.
He's one of the players who has the most to gain from more game reps in Weeks 3 and 4.
"He's continuing to get better," Kitchens said of Forbes. "He's continuing to get comfortable as far as knowing what to do and how to do it. Again, he's in the mix and we'll see where it goes. He's getting better. You see Drew getting better even within -- I don't know if you guys know this or not but I felt like even during the course of Wednesday's practice down there against them, during the course of the practice you saw him getting better. The same thing for Thursday, during the course of practice he got better, and I think he got better as the game went on. He was better this week in the game than he was last week in the game. He just needs to keep that upward trend."
The key for Kitchens when it comes to rookies: Don't make the same mistake twice. Forbes had a solid game Saturday with only one glaring error: a holding flag drawn when he was initially beaten off the snap by a defensive lineman. He didn't repeat such a mistake for the rest of the game.
Kicker continues to be a fluid situation, with Greg Joseph and rookie Austin Seibert neck-and-neck in the race for the job. Each missed a field goal from almost identical distances, with Joseph pushing his 53-yard attempt wide right and Seibert sending his 52-yard attempt wide left.
Kitchens reiterated what he wants from his kickers: "Somebody who can put the ball between the two yellow poles."
"Are they expected to make a 53-yard field goal? Yes they are," Kitchens said. "Am I concerned about it? No, because we're not playing for real yet. But I will be. I want everybody to succeed and get better. That's what I'm looking for from all positions."
There's also the gradual acclimation of Kareem Hunt, who missed the first half of camp with a groin injury and just got back into the flow of things Wednesday when the team practiced with the Indianapolis Colts in Westfield, Indiana. Hunt also saw a handful of reps in the Browns' 21-18 win over the Colts on Saturday as part of a continued process to prepare Hunt before he starts serving his eight-game suspension in Week 1.
"I wanted to keep him between 10 and 15 plays and I think he was right at that," Kitchens said of Hunt. "Just because he was coming off an injury really. Now, keep in mind, the first time he had actually been back against competition and stuff was the Wednesday down in Indianapolis.
"Just because he's not going to be here with us first, I don't want him leaving banged up in any way or anything like that. Nothing that he can't come back from. You increase your chances with that and I want to make sure he's prepared physically for competition, and you kind of just slowly get people involved in that because he had missed some time."
There's plenty of value in these final two preseason games, and countless reasons to keep an eye on a team that is carrying expectation into a highly anticipated regular season.