CLEVELAND — Finally, the day Cleveland Browns fans have waited for since the acquisition of Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in March is here.
After months of anticipation, weeks of work during the offseason program, training camp and the preseason, and days of practice since the roster was reduced from 90 to 53 players last Saturday, the Browns will begin the 2019 regular season when they host the Tennessee Titans at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland this afternoon.
The Browns will go in search of their first victory in an opener since 2004 and only the second win in such games since their return to the National Football League in 1999.
Here are three things to watch for in today’s opener.
First look at Beckham Jr.
Beckham Jr. was held out of all four of the team’s preseason games and most of the 11-on-11 drills during training camp practices while working through a hip issue. However, Beckham Jr. returned to full-team drills before the final preseason game was a full participant in practice throughout the week.
“Odell’s ready to go, so yeah, I feel good about the plan,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said earlier this week.
Over 59 regular-season games, including 56 starts, in five years with the New York Giants, Beckham Jr. turned 622 targets into 390 receptions for 5,476 yards and 44 touchdowns. Beckham Jr. averaged 92.8 yards per game, including a league-best 108.8 during the 2014 season.
Beckham Jr. has four 1,000-yard and three double-digit touchdown seasons on his resume since being selected with a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft out of Louisiana State University.
“He’s as good as advertised, I’ll tell you that,” running back Nick Chubb said of Beckham Jr. “Never seen anything like it. His footwork’s so smooth. He can make huge plays and he does it so easy. One-hand catches come natural to him. I’m excited to watch, too.”
Defensive line play
Kitchens has said since the start of the offseason program that he expected the defensive line to be a strength of the team.
However, the bulk of the attention from outside of the Browns’ facility has been placed on the offense with the offseason acquisitions of running back Kareem Hunt and Beckham Jr. mixing with a talented group of skill players around quarterback Baker Mayfield.
But within the building, the Browns’ defensive front, led by Myles Garrett, Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi and Olivier Vernon, has gained a high level of respect from the other position groups.
“I think they can be how good they want to be,” safety Damarious Randall said. “They’re a very, very talented group, and as long as we stay healthy across the board, I mean, we’re going to be a tough out each and every week.”
When the Browns trimmed their roster to 53 players after the fourth preseason game, they made the uncommon move of keeping both a rookie kicker (Austin Seibert) and a first-year punter (Jamie Gillan) instead of incumbent veterans.
In order to prepare Seibert and Gillan for kicking conditions next to Lake Erie, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer took both kickers down to FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland multiple times throughout the week.
“The more we go down there, the more confident they become by just working down there and getting used to that stadium,” Priefer said. “As the year goes on, it gets colder and windier, and the weather is going to turn nasty here in Cleveland, like it always does.
“I think the more they kick outdoors and the more they kick in a stadium setting more so than the practice field, that will get them ready for pretty much any outdoor stadium.”