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Four things to watch during Browns season opener vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Posted at 12:52 PM, Sep 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-11 12:52:31-04

While Browns coach Hue Jackson knows what to expect from his team on Sunday, fans may be wondering what to watch for themselves. Here are four things to watch during the Browns season opener this afternoon versus the Philadelphia Eagles.

1. How will the rookies respond?

The Browns are currently set to start three rookies — wide receiver Corey Coleman and outside linebackers Emmanuel Ogbah and Joe Schobert — and feature a handful of others Sunday in Philadelphia.

And if the youth of this club feels like a reoccurring theme, you’re not alone. Cleveland’s roster features 27 newcomers — including 17 rookies — and the Browns have made it clear their youngsters will have to contribute for them to leave Lincoln Financial Field with a victory in tow.

It’s also a dynamic that Jackson and the coaching staff has embraced over the past few weeks. Youth or not, they say, expectations of winning remain the same.

“I have an expectation and I’m not backing down from that and I’m not changing that thought process in our players. That is just what we are going to do and we are going to find a way to do it,” Jackson said Monday.

“I don’t know how it’s going to happen. By hook or by crook, we are going to get this done. We have to. That is all I know. I don’t know anything else.”

2. Can Robert Griffin III and the Browns offense replicate preseason success?

Robert Griffin III seems to have won over the Browns locker room after his teammates voted him one of five season-long captains Wednesday. Now, the quarterback and 2012 Offensive Rookie of the Year will make his first start since 2014.

“We have an opportunity to do something special. Everyone has the same goal at the beginning of the year and that’s to win every game, and we’re no different,” Griffin said Wednesday. “We know what it takes. We know what we have to do to make that happen.”

The Browns offense -- which flashed throughout the preseason -- is ready to put everything together against a talented Eagles defense.

As such, Griffin has embraced the idea of leading the unit and making sure it's fully prepared come Sunday

"The one thing that has impressed me a ton about Robert is he is a tireless worker. He is a gym rat. He is here all the time. He is working at it," associate head coach/offense Pep Hamilton said.

"He is studying film. He is actually bothering me quite a bit up in the coaches’ wing of the building, which is a good thing. It’s important to him.” Hamilton added: "His demeanor, his approach to preparing himself for this season was recognized by his teammates and because of that, he was voted a team captain.”

3. Bright-eyed and ready

Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton shook his head no when asked if he’s ever coached a defense with this many young players expected to contribute this season.

“It’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to revamp and go and put some young players out there and we are. I’m excited for them. They’re bright-eyed. They have learned the system. They have done everything we have asked them to do,” he said.

“It’s exciting to watch them grow because the veterans, they get it. They’ve been there, but the young guys, we don’t know what to expect from them.”

To be sure, the Browns have confidence in the likes of Ogbah, Schobert, Nassib and others to make plays alongside veterans Joe HadenDemario DavisChristian Kirksey,Tramon Williams, and Jamar Taylor, who are all expected to play key roles for the Browns defense this season.

Horton said the Browns intend to “create havoc and confusion” for rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and the Eagles offense, “but we also know that we have young guys, too, and the most important thing is that we play sound football and stop them from scoring.”

“We want to come away with a victory. We don’t care how we get the victory, just we want to come away with a victory,” Horton continued.

“Do we understand all the side issues with their rookie quarterback, their first game, for us on the road, for him at home, the crowd, the Philadelphia crowd, which is a different crowd? Yeah, we do, and that is why it is so exciting for us because it gives us an opportunity on defense to have some success if we do our job.”

4. Debut for retooled special teams

After trimming the roster to 53 members, the Browns special teams will feature several new faces Sunday afternoon, including kicker Patrick Murray, punter Britton Colquitt and kick returner/running back George Atkinson.

The Browns will also count on veteran linebacker Tank Carder — who was named the special teams captain Wednesday — defensive back Don Jones and a bevy of younger players to play key roles on kick/punt return coverage.

“Tank Carder, he’s a captain for us, and he has done a nice job. He has always been a steady hand for us. Don Jones, he has been playing at a high level with regards to getting down there and being disruptive, and we need him to continue to do those things,” special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said.

“Then you are going to start getting into some guys that are a little bit untested, but yet I’m excited about watching them go. We have had them for a long time through OTAs and training camp and those type things. Now, it is time to put the work to the test – the (rookie defensive back Derrick) Kindreds of the world, the Schoberts, the (rookie linebacker Dominique) Alexanders, those younger players – but I think that they are good football players so we’ll be ready to roll.”