NFL Preseason Preview - Cleveland (0-0) at Detroit (0-0)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The NFL's first full week of preseason action continues on Saturday night in Detroit when the Lions play host to Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland Browns at Ford Field.
The Browns have split first-team repetitions over recent days between Brian Hoyer and Manziel, the No. 22 overall pick out of Texas A&M. The veteran Hoyer is expected to start in the Motor City but the highly-anticipated debut of Manziel is the bigger storyline.
"It's just part of our plan," Browns first-year head coach Mike Pettine said when asked about his QB competition. "We said we were going to allow the quarterbacks to compete. At some point, you've got to mix up the supporting cast a little bit."
The Browns certainly invited additional scrutiny when they decided to get into the "Johnny Football" business and during much of the offseason, Manziel was spotted partying far away from Cleveland on numerous occasions, leading many to question whether the former Heisman trophy winner is as serious about his profession as he needs to be.
Any time you draft a quarterback in the first round of the draft, however, the plan is for him to take over sooner rather than later and Manziel has all the physical tools in the world to succeed on the football field.
"It'll be fun. It'll be fun to mix it back up," Manziel said. "This will be the first game setting since my last college bowl game so it'll be nice to get back on the field and play a game. Everybody's happy when the season rolls back around, and you're on the field actually having a live game going on."
On the other side of the ball Cleveland's other first-round draft pick, cornerback Justin Gilbert, will be expected to hit the ground running and team with veteran Joe Haden to give the Browns two top-tier players outside the numbers on defense.
"(Gilbert) has all the tools to be a dominant corner in this league, he's just got to go out and do it," Cleveland defensive coordinator Jim O'Neill said. "I mean, if you were creating a corner in a video game, you'd create Justin Gilbert. His size, his speed, his length, his burst, his ball skills -- he's got everything."
Detroit, on the other hand, is also entering a new era under incoming head coach Jim Caldwell.
Led by talented but inconsistent quarterback Matthew Stafford, the Lions ranked third in the NFL in passing yards in 2013 yet a slight improvement on the field wasn't enough for Jim Schwartz to keep his job in the Motor City largely because his team remained undisciplined, win or lose.
Caldwell was handed the task of not only cleaning up the now trademarked boneheaded play with the Lions but also the mechanics of Stafford, who often relies on his plus-arm strength to make up for shoddy footwork, poor arm angles and questionable decision-making.
"You can tell he has worked at it even during the summer," Caldwell said when discussing Stafford. "In every facet, I can see improvement. Footwork, accuracy, timing, command of the offense, all of those things. So now we get a chance to see if he can put it all together, keep progressing and then get some real challenges from our opposition as we start preseason."
The Lions took an NBA approach to upgrading their high- octane offense around Stafford. Detroit wanted to take some of the LeBron James-like load off of star receiver Calvin Johnson after Megatron suffered through an injury- plagued 2013 season.
Former Seattle receiver Golden Tate will be Johnson's new running mate on the outside while athletic rookie tight end Eric Ebron has Caldwell envisioning a Jimmy Graham-like impact in the middle of the field at some point, although Ebron hasn't caught on early in camp and may miss the preseason opener.
"(Ebron) has an injury," Caldwell said after a practice Wednesday night at Ford Field. "We'll see (if he can play against Cleveland). He's day to day, so we'll see how it goes."
Cleveland and Detroit are preseason regulars with 45 career meetings, including a 24-6 Browns victory last year at FirstEnergy Stadium on Aug. 15. The Lions, however, hold a 24-20-1 all-time edge in the preseason series
08/07 11:09:54 ET