The Winning Mix

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The Winning Mix: 3 keys for success in Friday's preseason opener

The starters are set to open the first preseason game Friday in Jacksonville

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The Browns are in Jacksonville for their first preseason game of 2022, and it'll begin with most of the starters on the field for both teams. That means we'll have a short glimpse of the true potential the Browns hold on each side of the ball, with the most attention likely being drawn to the offense — QB Deshaun Watson is expected to start the game under center and make his Browns debut.

A preseason "victory" for the Browns doesn't necessarily mean winning on the scoreboard, so let's dive into the factors that'll make Friday a success.

1. Stay healthy

Isn't this always a top priority in the preseason? This point is especially important this week because the Browns are opening the game with starters. We'll see how much head coach Kevin Stefanski allows the first-stringers to play, but the biggest hope is certainly for all of them to finish the game with no new injuries. This goal is especially true at wide receiver, where the Browns have already dealt with a share of injuries to several players through the first two weeks of training camp.

Check out photos as the team travels to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars for week one of the preseason

2. Efficiency on offense

Even after Watson and any other offensive starters depart the game, the Browns will be looking for smooth and efficient operations from the entire offensive staff. That means breaking the huddle with enough time for everyone to line up properly at the line of scrimmage, protecting the football and eliminating pre-snap penalties. For receivers and the offensive linemen, the focus is on understanding play assignments and fulfilling blocking responsibilities.

Not every drive has to end with points, but the Browns want to be in control of the game, and that means maintaining possession of the ball. If they can check those boxes off, the Browns should leave Jacksonville with a good feeling about how their offense will look come Week 1 of the regular season in Charlotte.

3. Better look at position battles

Sure, the starters are playing and will be watched closely, but the bigger storylines of preseason games are normally about who is separating themselves in backup battles and final spots on the 53-man roster.

When the starters depart, we'll likely have a better look at position battles at wide receiver, defensive line and in the secondary. At WR, will anyone among Javon Wims, Mike Harley Jr., Ja'Marcus Bradley, Travell Harris, Daylen Baldwin and Derrick Dillon step up with a big game? At DT, how does Perrion Winfrey and Tommy Togiai look, and will they be ready to push for big roles in the rotation along with Taven Bryan and Jordan Elliott? On the edge, how does rookie third-round DE Alex Wright and DE Chase Winovich play in their Browns debuts? And at CB, we'll have a chance to watch third-round rookie M.J. Emerson Jr. and where he might slot on the depth chart in a battle with A.J. Green, who has been one of the top performers so far in training camp.

One other position to watch: returner. The Browns placed WR and lead return man Jakeem Grant on injured reserve Wednesday, ending his season, after he suffered an Achilles injury at Tuesday's practice. Who's next up on punt and kick returns? Demetric Felton, Donovan Peoples-Jones and D'Ernest Johnson were used in those roles last season, and Harris has also been among the players receiving reps as a returner in camp. Because of the unfortunate injury to Grant, the return position has now become one of the most important roster battles to watch the rest of the preseason.

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