With half of the preseason behind us, it's time to stop denying your innermost pangs of excitement. The NFL regular season is almost here.
The Browns wrapped up their training camp with a final open practice Wednesday, which was largely spent preparing for Friday's contest at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Here are the Browns' keys to winning that game.
1. Yet again, stay healthy
Since this is still the preseason, preservation of health is the ultimate victory. Everything else, while important, is secondary. This is why players don't play the entire game.
Week 3, though, is traditionally the dress rehearsal. The first team tends to play a healthy amount of the game. We might not see that this time around, though, as Freddie Kitchens has demonstrated he's not one to stick to convention just for convention's sake.
It might end up being more of an individual basis of participation, depending on whom the staff believes needs more work before the regular season. As such, we'll likely see some interesting lineups and a mash-up of 11-man groupings. The key, again, above all: stay healthy, especially if precipitation is involved.
2. Establish offensive rhythm with the starters (if they play)
We saw plenty of rhythm last week from Garrett Gilbert and to a lesser degree, David Blough, but this one is really all about Baker Mayfield.
We don't have a legitimate idea of how much Mayfield will play, if at all, but getting in a flow with his teammates is important because this will be his last shot to play in a game before the Browns host the Tennessee Titans to open the regular season. These guys have gotten a ton of work in practice, including in Westfield, Indiana, last week with the Colts, but it's difficult to replicate true game speed.
More important is the continued development and jelling of the offensive line, with Eric Kush starting at right guard and additional linemen getting time there as well, and Austin Corbett's path toward becoming a reliable center. Kareem Hunt's on-ramping should continue as well, and it would be fair to expect more than 10 reps this week for him.
There's also the potential for elemental influence in seemingly always rainy Florida, which could hinder pass releases and make things a little more difficult for everyone involved. This is all good for regular-season preparation, even if it doesn't produce a pretty final score.
3. Make the most of the snaps afforded
Kitchens said it best in regards to running back D'Ernest Johnson, who has worked his way into a potential job when he had a slim chance of earning one upon offseason arrival.
"He's got a great opportunity in front of him," Kitchens said Wednesday. "These next four days and two games. You know, you don't ever know where they're gonna come from. You never know who's gonna show up."
That can still be true for plenty of other bubble players on the roster right now, and the final two weeks are crucial for their chances to make an NFL roster. It might not even be here, but putting good film out into the football universe can only help their futures. It will also help the Browns figure out who they want on their final 53. It is officially crunch time.
Check out photos as the team travels to Tampa to play the Buccaneers in week 3 of the preseason by team photographer Matt Starkey