Every week, Steel City Underground takes a hard look at the opponent the Pittsburgh Steelers will face, whether at Heinz Field or on the road, to give fans a scouting report. Stay tuned during the 2018 NFL season and post-season to see the top storylines, team analysis, injury updates and other news surrounding the team that will stand opposite the Steelers on the field.
The Cleveland Browns have gained international attention for a couple things over the years - mainly being in the dumpster fire at the bottom of NFL standings. This year, they've been a feature on the television show "Hard Knocks", a reality sports documentary television series produced by NFL Films and HBO. With all the antics aside, the Browns look like they could be a more legitimate football team in the league in 2018... but should the show be enough to determine how much success they will ultimately have?
Apparently John Breech of CBS Sports thinks it will determine the outcome of the Browns' Week 1 meeting with the Steelers.
I was going to pick the Steelers to win this game by three touchdowns, but then I decided to binge-watch "Hard Knocks" over the weekend and now, not only did I change my mind, but I'm not sure I'm ever going to be able to pick against the Browns again... I'm so sold on Cleveland that my entire fantasy team is now made up of Browns players. I'm going to go winless, aren't I?
Yes, Todd Haley became the offensive coordinator who left Pittsburgh and now the narrative is that he wants revenge in some way. Even Breech points that out in his opinion/prediction piece. "(Haley) always has a look on his face that says, 'I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure we destroy the Steelers in Week 1'," Breech ranted. Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, people are laying down bets on how fast Haley becomes the de facto head coach due to Hue Jackson's impending nervous breakdown. But hey, if the Browns win, then everyone can get drunk and laugh it up, right?
Bud Light “Victory Fridges” will open to free beer for fans when the Browns win their first regular season game pic.twitter.com/vjwjcKmCuR
— Athlete Swag (@AthleteSwag) August 14, 2018
Let's get back to seriously looking at the Browns and Week 1. In his press conference, Haley was asked if this game means something more to him, given his history with the Steelers. "I would like to say yes, but no [it does not]," Haley said. "Every week is the biggest game of the year. This just so happens to be against the team I worked for the last six years... We are just trying to make sure that every guy who has an opportunity to compete is at his best."
The fact that Jackson had yet to determine who will take spots on the offensive line as late as Wednesday may be mysterious to some, but you'd think the lack of disclosure is concerning. According to Joel Bitonio early in the week, "I think coach is going to come back Wednesday and give us a definite answer... Whatever they put me at, I'm ready to go and play some football finally."
With Joe Thomas' retirement, the Browns have tried out rookie Austin Corbett and former right tackle Shon Coleman on the left side before putting Bitonio at left tackle. There is a chance, however, that Bitonio could be moved back to guard and UDFA Desmond Harrison to tackle. Jackson likes what Harrison has brought to the group and feels Gregg Robinson is an option as well. "My job is to make sure that we put the best players out there, period. Whatever position that is," Jackson said.
"Anytime you lose someone like Joe Thomas, that is a big hole to fill," Haley admitted. "We have a lot of moving parts... The good thing is Joe Bitonio is a guy that likes to play football and likes to play at a high level so that is what gives comfort to me." As for Harrison, Haley was a bit more reserved in his assessment. "(Desmond) has ability. He has a chance to play in this league, but he has got to show us that he can be dependable on a down-in and down-out basis and week-in-week-out basis."
Change In the Wind
Sunday may bring rain, but it also ushers in a season of change for Cleveland. The 2018 roster features 31 new faces and the emotion will be high. "We have to handle that," Jackson said of the emotions of his players. "These guys are chomping at the bit to play."
Jarvis Landry, Damarious Randall, Carlos Hyde, Anthony Zettel, and Tyrod Taylor are just some of the new faces of the Cleveland Browns. Taylor will be the Browns' starting quarterback on Sunday. "My expectations are high," Haley said of Taylor. "He has the ability to throw the ball and run the ball. He is very smart, which helps us in the run game... I think that my hope is that we have not seen the best of Tyrod Taylor."
Rookie receiver Antonio Callaway looks to get his first regular season start and the Browns are excited about what he offers their offense. "He has played in some big games," Haley said when asked if he felt Callaway was ready. "If you go to the University of Florida and play football, you understand what big games are." Callaway worked with Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, both Miami (Florida) natives, during the offseason and said, "(Antonio) was just telling me basically for all the work we put in, just come in and show your talent."
"If (Callaway) could get a quarter of the stuff that AB is doing to make sure he is in his best position to succeed, he will be ahead of the game," Haley stated. "I like to see that. I like to see other guys, even when they are not on the same team, look out for guys that they like and I think it is a good thing."
Rookie cornerback Denzel Ward will be tasked with matching-up with Brown. "He's going to push you," Ward said of his veteran opponent on Thursday. "(Brown is) going to work you every play So just got to know where he's at all times on the field."
Although receiver Josh Gordon, who was suspended for the 2015 and 2016 seasons as well as the first 11 games of 2017, returned to practice, he will not start against the Steelers. His hamstring injury appears to have healed but will be worked into the lineup.
Also, on the injury outlook, tight end Seth DeValve, who missed the entire preseason due to a quadriceps injury, (Damarious) Randall (knee) and rookie linebacker Genard Avery (hip) all returned to practice this week. Cornerback E.J. Gaines (knee) returned to practice on Tuesday but only did individual drills and is not slated to suit-up this weekend.