The Browns' new-and-improved offense has had its shares of highs and lows through three preseason games. It's still a work in progress as the group — a mixture of new and familiar faces — build chemistry with the season opener less than two weeks away.
"We haven't reached our full potential as a team yet," running back Duke Johnson said Monday. "We have a lot of weapons on offense … We definitely have the talent on paper. It's just about going out there and performing."
Indeed, Cleveland overhauled its roster this offseason, adding starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, three-time Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry and running back Carlos Hyde to a unit that returns Johnson, Josh Gordon, tight end David Njoku and a veteran offensive line.
While the Browns have flashed promise in both the pass and run games, the offense remains something of a work in progress as everyone gets on the same page in a new system under first-year offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Gordon recently returned from a leave of absence while the offensive line has been without starting right guard Kevin Zeitler for most of training camp.
While Cleveland's starters aren't expected to play in Thursday's preseason finale against the Lions, Johnson said it's not an impediment to the group's growth
"We're not playing, so a lot of mental reps, a lot of working on getting ready for Pittsburgh within ourselves mentally, physically getting ready," he said. "For the most part, we have some work to do. We will be fine. The work never stops."
— Gordon, who returned to the team last week after almost a month away, expects to play in the team's season opener against the Steelers as he continues to nurse a minor hamstring injury. Browns coach Hue Jackson, however, made clear Gordon won't start the game regardless of health.
"We'll come up with the right package for him to play. I wouldn't expect him to go play the whole game or anything like that," he said, "but I expect him to contribute to the football team when we get ready to play Pittsburgh and he's ready to go." Gordon sustained the injury during a strength and conditioning workout upon returning."
— While Cleveland's starters won't play as a unit, Jackson said Zeitler and rookie receiver Antonio Callaway will see action Thursday night in Detroit. Zeitler has yet to take a preseason snap while Callaway missed last week's win over the Eagles. "He needs to get back to where he was," he said. "When you're out a little bit, you have to push yourself through. You have to get back."
Zeitler, who started 16 games last season, returned to practice this week after a calf injury. "My biggest concern is that he needs to be ready to play football," Jackson said. "He's practicing now. I would hope to get him to play a little bit this week because I think that he needs it."
— Defensive tackle Trevon Coley could be ready for the season opener after missing most of camp with a high-ankle sprain. "I think that he's really, really close," Jackson said. Coley, a practice squad player turned starter, started 15 games last year.
— Jackson said rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield will see significant action Thursday with Taylor and Co. on the bench. The first overall pick in the NFL Draft, Mayfield has flashed promise in three preseason games.