We've reached the fourth and final week of the preseason.
Usually, this week is spent evaluating the current 90-man roster of one's team and the other 31 teams in the NFL, with one eye trained on who to cut, and the other on who to scoop up from other squads. If it sounds as if it could cause a headache, it's true, but those in charge of making such difficult decisions have plenty of experience in this department. This is just another part of business in late August.
Before we can get to that fateful day, though, we must first play the final preseason game, a contest in which the bubble guys could leap from bubble to firm standing. They can also move in the opposite direction with poor play.
So while the stars will largely sit in a game that doesn't count toward any team's final record, there are still reasons to tune in, and jobs to win. Here are the keys to victory for Thursday night.
1. Leave it on the field
It’s cliché, yes, but it’s also very true for the dozens of players on this roster who know they could be playing their last game in brown and orange. An unfortunate reality of this sport and this point of the process is, as head coach Freddie Kitchens said weeks ago, they have to fire half of the roster in a 24-hour period. That leaves Thursday night as the final chance for the players who have toiled in the Berea heat for the last six weeks to earn a roster spot.
We know there are at least a few bottom-half jobs to be won, and a standout performance could be the nudge needed to push someone from No. 54 to No. 52. Receiver still needs to be sorted out in the final two or three roster slots, and we are also awaiting the sorting of defensive backs in a talented group. We’ll need a resolution to the final spot or two along the offensive line, too, as well as tight end.
Oh, and there’s also that kicking job...
2. Present your special teams with opportunities to attempt field goals
Given an entire game to work, rookie placekicker Austin Seibert made the most of his chances Friday in Tampa, drilling all four of his field goal attempts. This needs to happen again.
It might not be visually pleasing, seeing the Browns’ offense denied trips to the end zone, but it would be a big help for a kicking competition that lacked substance until Seibert’s Week 3 performance. We’re not sure who -- Seibert or Greg Joseph -- will kick in the final preseason game, but regardless of who lines up for an attempt, they need multiple in-game opportunities.
The last opportunity to do so before the regular season -- and before one of the two will have to pack his bags -- arrives Thursday.
3. For the last time, stay healthy
The key players likely will not play, but that doesn’t mean that important depth players will spend their evening on the sideline. We still need to sort out the aforementioned position groups, and some players have missed time in recent weeks due to injury.
That means we should expect to see Dontrell Hilliard, Damion Ratley, Seth DeValve, Ishmael Hyman and Braxton Miller at the skilled positions, among others. This might also be a make-or-break game for D’Ernest Johnson, who’s had a solid preseason but could really do himself a favor with a standout performance against Detroit.
That also means their health and preparedness for the regular season remain paramount at this point in the year. This is the last time we make this point as a key to victory, but above all, the biggest wins in the preseason aren’t on the scoreboard -- they’re on a clean injury report.