By Steve Doerschuk
The Canton Repository
Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski calls it “mock week.” Count him among the majority who regard preseason Game 3 tonight against the Colts in Indianapolis as The Big Dress Rehearsal.
Here are five items that should add to the intrigue:
1. Brandon Weeden vs. Andrew Luck
These quarterbacks dueled twice in 2012.
In the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 12, Weeden passed for 399 yards and three touchdowns to lead Oklahoma State to a 41-38 overtime victory over Stanford, whose QB was Luck (347 yards, two TDs).
On Oct. 21 at Indianapolis, Luck passed for 186 yards and ran for two touchdowns in a 17-13 Colts win. Weeden passed for 264 yards and two touchdowns. He couldn’t add a third TD when Josh Gordon dropped a 41-yard fourth-quarter bomb at the goal line.
2. The wideout shuffle
Gordon will start against the Colts but will be on suspension for regular-season games against Miami and Baltimore. Slot man Davone Bess might be rested for the opener, partly to keep Miami from gauging how he will be used in the opener. Six-foot-5 David Nelson, coming off a knee injury, might see his first action as a Brown. Weeden’s former Oklahoma State security blanket, Josh Cooper, is expected to play a lot.
3. Nervous time on guard duty
Injuries and a trade that fell through have forced veteran backup tackle Oniel Cousins into a start at right guard. Rookie Round 7 pick Garrett Gilkey hasn’t convinced coaches he is ready for prime time.
“Cousins has done well in practice,” Chudzinski said. “Gilkey will get opportunities with the first group. We will just see how the game goes.”
4. Cobbling together a secondary
Safety T.J. Ward and his new running mate, Tashaun Gipson, might be on the field together for the first time this preseason. Buster Skrine has a chance to lock down the cornerback job opposite Joe Haden. Rookie third-round pick Leon McFadden might get meaningful time at cornerback in the first half.
Luck and his wideouts could keep them busy. Reggie Wayne is a potential Hall of Famer. Free agency pick-up Darrius Heyward-Bey would give Browns blazer Travis Benjamin a good race.
5. Front-seven shuffle
The edge-rushing group was deep before rookie Barkevious Mingo landed in Cleveland Clinic with a bruised lung. Now, Jabaal Sheard is nursing a knee issue. Starting outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves probably won’t be put at risk for more than a half. Rookie Kendrick Adams, who was Mingo’s teammate at LSU, will never get a better shot at proving he belongs.
Up front, end Desmond Bryant is out with a back issue. Billy Winn gets a start.
Browns at Colts, 7 p.m., WHIO-TV (Channel 7)