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NFL Preseason Preview - Cleveland (0-0) at Detroit (0-0)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The future will be now for the Cleveland Browns, as a massive youth movement led by rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden will be immediately set into motion when the rebuilding club meets the Detroit Lions in the preseason opener for both squads at Ford Field.
Weeden, one of two first-round selections by the Browns in this past April's draft, had entered training camp as the heavy favorite to start the team's Week 1 regular-season matchup against Philadelphia, and that belief was confirmed when head coach Pat Shurmur officially declared the former minor- league pitcher as his No. 1 signal-caller for both this game and beyond on Monday. The 28-year-old, who's actually three years the senior of demoted regular Colt McCoy, is tentatively slated to see about one quarter's worth of snaps with the first-team offense against the Lions.
McCoy, who started 21 of Cleveland's 32 games the past two seasons, is still expected to get plenty of playing time in the preseason, perhaps as a showcase for a potential trade.
Several other members of the Browns' 2012 draft class will take the Ford Field turf in preparation for significant roles in the upcoming season. Second-round pick Mitchell Schwartz and third-rounder John Hughes currently reside atop the depth chart at right offensive tackle and defensive tackle, respectively, while fourth-round choice James-Michael Johnson could begin the year as a starter at strongside linebacker with veteran Scott Fujita slapped with a three-game suspension for his involvement in the New Orleans Saints' bounty program during his past tenure with that team.
Fujita is eligible to participate in all preseason contests, though his ban combined with Saturday's season-ending Achilles tear suffered by weakside regular Chris Gocong has severely tested the Browns' linebacker depth. Cleveland had already lost one key defensive player for an extended period when 2011 first-round pick Phil Taylor tore his pectorals in May, prompting Hughes' elevation into the starting lineup.
Sixth-rounder Billy Winn could also see extensive action at defensive tackle on Friday with top option Ahtyba Rubin questionable for the game while still mending from pelvic surgery. Wide receiver Josh Gordon, taken by the Browns in the second round of this year's supplemental draft, should get his share of work as well as he competes to become one of Weeden's main targets.
Cleveland may not have its other prized rookie in uniform in the opener, however. Running back Trent Richardson, the third overall choice in April's draft, has been experiencing soreness in his surgically-repaired left knee and may be held out as a precaution.
Richardson's possible absence would allow third-year pro Montario Hardesty and former Packer Brandon Jackson, who are battling for the primary backup job, to state their case for the position.
The Lions come in with some injury issues of their own at running back. Speedster Jahvid Best, who missed most of last season with concussion symptoms, has still yet to be cleared to practice, while well-regarded youngster Mikel Leshoure has sat out much of camp with a hamstring strain. That leaves veteran Kevin Smith as the nominal starter for the time being, with reserves Joique Bell and Keiland Williams and return specialist Stefan Logan likely to carry the bulk of the load on Friday.
Weeden will be taking shots at a Detroit secondary that will be minus free safety Louis Delmas (knee) and possibly cornerback Chris Houston (hamstring), and may not have to deal with pass rusher Cliff Avril in his debut. Avril, the Lions' designated franchise player coming off a career-high 11-sack season, just reported to camp on Sunday after staging a brief holdout over his contract situation.
Unlike the Browns, Detroit enters the preseason with the majority of its starting spots set as it attempts to build on last year's breakthrough 10-win total and first playoff appearance since 1999. The Lions do have a big hole to fill at right cornerback, however, after 2011 regular Eric Wright exited via free agency and his intended replacement, Aaron Berry, was released just prior to the start of camp after two off-field arrests.
Free-agent pickup Jacob Lacey, rookie Dwight Bentley (3rd Round, Louisiana- Lafayette) and returnee Alphonso Smith are among the candidates contending to take over.
These two franchises have met in the preseason every year since 2002, with the Lions possessing a 23-19-1 advantage in the overall exhibition series. Detroit has prevailed in each of the last two clashes between the teams, following up a 35-27 triumph at Ford Field in 2010 with last summer's 30-28 decision in Cleveland.
The Lions went 4-0 during the 2011 preseason and have won seven consecutive warm-up games dating back to the 2010 campaign.
08/08 14:05:24 ET
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