The fourth preseason game is a throwaway for many teams, with most starting jobs secured and only a handful of backup spots still available and the roster mostly locked in for some franchises.
It is tough to predict which big names will see the field for the Cleveland Browns or the Chicago Bears on Thursday, and the coaches likely haven’t game-planned for the matchup.
Still, if there are reasons to watch the game, here are five aspects to focus on Thursday.
Starting quarterback DeShone Kizer
Kizer started last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Browns’ third preseason game, and coach Hue Jackson has since named him the starter to open the season. That makes this week of practice his first as the clear-cut leader of the Cleveland offense.
Jackson has been unclear regarding whether Kizer will get any playing time in Thursday’s preseason finale, according to Andrew Gribble of ClevelandBrowns.com. He is young and could use the reps, but starters often get to rest the final week. If Kizer does play, with or without the starters around him and likely against weaker competition, it will be worth seeing how he stays in rhythm and control as a passer and how his teammates react to him.
If Kizer sits, Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan will get one more chance to put something on tape.
Backup quarterback (for now) Mitchell Trubisky
Even if second-round-pick Kizer doesn’t play for the Browns, Bears fans will definitely see second-overall pick Trubisky, who is still listed as the third-string quarterback. Starter Mike Glennon and nominal backup Mark Sanchez will rest in the fourth preseason game. Trubisky will start and be replaced at some point by Connor Shaw.
This is deserving of a watch for a few reasons. Trubisky has been on a roll at times this preseason, and should have the opportunity to make plays against the back end of the Browns defense. It is also one last chance to see him in action before he inevitably gets put on the bench for a Bears team that isn’t going anywhere. (This situation is only made worse by the perception that Trubisky has easily beaten out Glennon for the job).
A few highlights or big box-score numbers will make it even tougher for the fans to stomach Glennon’s inevitable underwhelming play come Week 1 of the regular season.
Bears depth at receiver
Everyone in Chicago is on edge after Cameron Meredith suffered a season-ending knee injury, leading them to wonder who will step up in his absence. Despite being an undrafted free agent heading into Season 3, Meredith was a reliable option, catching 66 passes for 888 yards and four touchdowns a year ago. Former first-round pick Kevin White seems capable of becoming the team’s top receiver, but whether he lives up to that potential isn’t relevant here.
In the preseason finale, the rest of the depth chart will be solidified. Markus Wheaton is on a guaranteed contract, and though he has struggled with an injury, he should be a lock to make the team. Kendall Wright is the best player at the position with a chance to play on Thursday, but Victor Cruz, Josh Bellamy, Deonte Thompson and Titus Davis are other veterans who will get a chance to make a good last impression. Undrafted free agent Tanner Gentry could also be in the mix, showing off reliable hands and the ability to get open in the preseason.
Special teams will be a huge factor in the back end of the roster, but White, Wheaton and Wright could still provide another option as players who can get on the field and make plays in the passing game.
Youth on the Browns defense
While veteran cornerback Joe Haden is the big news in Cleveland, and the man who could replace him is fellow veteran Jason McCourty, most of the Browns defensive roster has been drafted or acquired since 2014. These are young players who are still developing and working toward their second contracts. Defensive end Myles Garrett and safety Jabrill Peppers have made big impressions, but even if they don’t play in the finale, there are plenty of other intriguing youngsters who could get a chance to show what they can do.
Carl Nassib, Nate Orchard and rookies Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley are still trying to find their homes in the Browns rotation. That’s still leaving out the street free agents at linebacker and in the secondary, many of whom are fighting for roster spots. The Browns have been targeting explosive athletes under the current regime, so even the backups should overwhelm with speed and quickness, but seeing who can really play solid football could make the difference.
Big-play ability from Tarik Cohen
After getting only one carry in the preseason game against the Tennessee Titans, the Bears’ Cohen could see some extra action at running back in the Thursday’s finale. He has caught the imagination of Bears fans as the classic underdog because of his height, but still has the ability to look like a tough, working-class back who can take the punishment while running between the tackles.
He has averaged over 6.4 yards per carry in the preseason and has the potential to excite the fan base every time he touches the ball. He is listed as the third-string running back, but is probably a lock to make the team and could eventually surpass Jeremy Langford as Jordan Howard’s backup. If he continues to flash, he could be the best chance to get a thrill in a game that will feature a lot of players who won’t make either roster after the final cuts on Saturday.