The Cleveland Browns open preseason action Thursday night at home against the Washington Redskins (7:30 p.m., NFL App). While the main stars such as Baker Mayfield and Odell Beckham, Jr. will more than likely sit it out entirely, there are a handful of players looking to make good first impressions for 2019.
For Cleveland, one of the main defenders to break out during training camp is second-round draft pick Greedy Williams at corner. The former LSU Tiger has made some noise this August, even picking off a Mayfield pass at practice on Monday.
While he has started as a backup or potential nickel option on the depth chart, his preseason debut is a chance to jump up to the No. 2 spot opposite Denzel Ward. Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks likes this as a possibility.
“I think it’s so important that you’re not always looking, OK, we’re going to take away the best receiver,” he told Cleveland.com. “Sometimes it’s based off the size, quickness and how you want to match guys up, so I like the matchup that we have right now with Greedy and Denzel.”
At LSU, he recorded eight interceptions, 19 pass deflections, and 49 total tackles in two seasons. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder already possesses NFL-ready height for the position. He combines that with speed, as he ran a 4.37-second 40-yard-dash at the combine.
The Browns struggled to 25th in the league in passing defense in 2018, so new additions such as Williams need to emerge.
Here are four other players to watch between both teams.
Mack Wilson, Browns Linebacker
Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens has been impressed with his rookie linebacker this summer. At 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, the former Alabama backer has demonstrated impressive athleticism in 7-on-7 action, picking off Drew Stanton near the endzone in a scrimmage.
“It’s a process for (rookies),” Kitchens said to CBS Sports. “That’s why you have training camp is to get some of those things worked out. I’ve been very pleased with Mack in the last three days. We need to keep stringing days together.”
He wasn’t the most productive defender for Nick Saban, tallying just 65 tackles, 4.5 TFL’s and just a single sack last season. He did record two picks and five pass deflections, further proving an ability in pass coverage. For the Browns, more pass defense is always a good thing for 2019.
Dontrell Hilliard, Browns Running Back
With Duke Johnson’s trade to Houston today, Cleveland will enter the season with just Nick Chubb as an established runner. Until Kareem Hunt returns from his 8-game suspension, Hilliard is the primary backup.
At 5-foot-11, 202 pounds, he has decent size for the position. However, he only recorded nine carries for 105 yards as a rookie last fall. At Tulane, it took until his senior season to cross the 1,000-yard barrier.
If he can pick up 40 or 50 yards against the Redskins, it would go a long way to alleviating fears of overloading Chubb with carries.
Dwayne Haskins, Redskins Quarterback
According to NBC Sports’ Caroline Brandt, Washington’s first-round pick currently sits at third on the depth chart behind the starter Colt McCoy and the backup Case Keenum. He is expected to see significant snaps, since projected starter Colt McCoy is still nursing a leg injury.
Haskins has all the measurables, standing 6-foot-4 and 231 pounds. His numbers back up the body, as he tossed for 4,831 yards, 50 touchdowns and just eight interceptions last year for Ohio State.
Since McCoy and backup Case Keenum have just a combined 35-44-1 record as starters, Haskins’ development is of utmost interest to Redskins fans. If the rookie can sling it around in the preseason, it may force him into significant minutes sooner rather than later.
Terry McLaurin, Redskins Wide Receiver
Haskins former Buckeye teammate has turned head coach Jay Gruden’s head in training camp. If the third-round pick can perform early, it would provide an immediate boost to a corps that failed to produce a 600-yard plus receiver in 2018.
“I didn’t know he was this good,” Gruden said to Redskins Wire. “He knows both outside positions, the special teams guys can’t get enough of him…I’m like hey, hold back on special teams. He has been actually one of our better players in camp.”
His familiarity with Haskins is also something to watch. He accounted for 705 of Haskins passing yards last fall in Columbus, adding 11 touchdowns. With 6-foot, 208-pound size, 4.35 speed in the 40 and the production to back it up, McLaurin could be undervalued as a third-round draft selection.