Browns coach Mike Pettine sees Saturday's game against the Rams as very important to the wide receivers.
BEREA, Ohio -- In Monday night's 24-23 loss to the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field, Cleveland Browns coach Mike Pettine watched as the wide receivers struggled to make plays for either of the first-team quarterbacks, Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel.
And as such, Pettine and the Browns want to see the receivers shine in Saturday night's third preseason game against the St. Louis Rams at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"I think it's a big night for them, to see who can step up and make some plays," Pettine said. "As I talked about yesterday, the NFL is all about being productive, making plays.
"The third game is typically one where it's game-planned a little bit, and it's about as close to the regular season as you're going to see. We're all looking forward to those guys going out there and competing."
Thus far in the preseason, Browns wide receivers have been responsible for 22 of the team's 33 receptions, and those catches have been turned into 243 yards, but none have been taken across the goal line.
In fact, the Browns' only touchdown receptions this preseason have been from running back Dion Lewis on an eight-yard pass from Manziel against Washington, and a 45-yard score from tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi on a "Hail Mary" pass from backup quarterback Connor Shaw on the last play of Monday night's loss.
Despite the struggles in games, Pettine has seen production from veteran wide receivers Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins in practice, as well as progress from Travis Benjamin, who is returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee that he suffered at Kansas City last October.
"There's been some (drops), and that's something our guys have been working on," Pettine said. "We're settled in with Miles. He's had a nice camp for us. We've monitored his reps to make sure that he's ready to go for the regular season. Hawk's another guy that we feel real comfortable with. After that, I see it as really wide open.
"(Nate) Burleson's been struggling with the injury, and then, you've got some young guys that have stepped up. Taylor Gabriel, I think, has had a really good camp for us, is really going to make it a difficult decision for us. He's been solid.
"I think Travis (Benjamin) has done a really good job working his way back in. He's really starting to trust the knee again, and I think he'll be more than functional offensively for us, in addition to the return duties. There's good competition for some of those other spots."
ADJUSTING TO PENALTIES
During their annual meeting with NFL officials two weeks ago, the Browns learned of the league's enforcement of penalties for the use of props in celebrations.
After New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham delayed a game last year by breaking the goal post support while dunking over the crossbar, the NFL outlawed the use of the goal post in celebrations, and made it a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and finable offense, on game days.
That is something Pettine has had to remind his players of during practice.
"As long as it doesn't show up in a game, I'm fine with that," Pettine said. "Ben Tate did a finger roll the other day over the goalpost, and I grabbed him and said, 'Hey, just so you know, that's not legal anymore.'
"Some guys hear but they don't listen. He was surprised to hear that, so I think as we get closer to the start of the regular season, (we will) just a review of everything, review the rules changes and make sure that everybody that's going to be out there is well aware of things."
With the Browns playing their second of three preseason games in an 11-day period on Saturday against the Rams, Pettine has planned to play his starters "in the neighborhood of a half" this weekend, in the game widely considered as the "dress rehearsal" for the regular-season opener.
"We're going to meet here and just talk about if we do want to go into the third quarter because the plan right now is we will play some against Chicago," Pettine said. "Therefore, I don't know if there's an absolute need for us to extend our guys into the third quarter coming off of a short week, so I think it's safe to say for most of the ones, they'll be in the neighborhood of a half.
"It just depends on how the counts go on each side of the ball. If we felt one side didn't get enough work in a half, I could see extending them, but those are all things that are going to be open for discussion."
In the next couple weeks, the Browns will have to reduce their roster from 90 players to 53. However, when the Browns have an opportunity to add players to the practice squad, they will have the ability to bring in 10, instead of the eight that had been allowed in previous seasons.
"We're excited about it," Pettine said. "I think that's a win. That's a win for everybody. There's so many guys that you end up having to move on from that you really don't want to, and I also like what they did with the two spots designated as guys that could potentially be older.
"I think it's two accrued seasons for those last two spots, and I think that is definitely a win for football just because it's 10 guys. It'll take some stress off of the guys that are playing for you. It has a ripple effect in a good way, of being able to take reps off of guys and being able to develop young players."