Star players rarely get much playing time in the first preseason game of the year, but one big name that will definitely not be participating in this one is Browns starting running back Trent Richardson. The third overall pick in 2012 was kicked in the shin during practice last week and the team will be sitting him as a precaution.
That should allow even more playing time to the backups in a game against the Rams, a young team that is also going to be watching closely for players who could step up and contribute this season. Both teams have many questions at the skill positions and will be looking for guys to take advantage of the playing time they receive this week.
Which players should you be looking out for?
Meet the Browns
It will be the first season under first-time head coach Rob Chudzinski and general manager Michael Lombardi, but will they have more success than their predecessors since the expansion back to Cleveland in 1999?
Quarterback Brandon Weeden goes from "old rookie" to "old second-year player" for the Browns and though he didn't perform very well in his first year, there is little doubt that he remains Cleveland's starter. Weeden, who turns 30 in October, threw 17 interceptions and just 14 touchdowns last year, but is there hope for a big turnaround?
The team focused heavily on defense in the draft, spending their first four picks on that side of the ball and starting with outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo at sixth overall. Third-round pick, cornerback Leon McFadden, appears to have lost traction to start opposite of Joe Haden -- it seems Buster Skrine and Chris Owens could be battling for that spot instead.
Meet the Rams
Head coach Jeff Fisher would love to see the Rams improve as much in his second year as they did in his first, but that would be quite the accomplishment. The veteran coach took over the 2-14 Rams and in his first year, led them to a 7-8-1 record, including an impressive 4-1-1 record in the tough NFC West. Can they expect five additional wins in 2013?
You shouldn't expect to see much of quarterback Sam Bradford in this one, the Rams will do everything they can to protect him until the regular season begins. That means a heavy dose of Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis, and tryout player Tim Jenkins, who played his college ball at Fort Lewis.
Fisher will be looking for running backs Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead, Zac Stacy, and Terrance Ganaway to establish themselves and find a starter, though a running-back-by-committee is likely. The same is to be said about the receiving corps with rookies Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey competing against second-year pros Chris Givens and Brian Quick.
St. Louis features one of the best defensive lines in football, but keep an eyes on rookies Alec Ogletree at linebacker and T.J. McDonald at safety -- both should play integral roles this year and have opportunities to earn playing time.
Local Takes: Cleveland Browns
Hardesty Sits Again, Giving Away Opportunities: RB Montario Hardesty missed yet another practice due to a hamstring injury, which is giving guys like RB Dion Lewis and RB Brandon Jackson a chance to shine.
There is speculation that Hardesty could be the odd man out in the backfield once final cuts are announced. Lewis and Jackson have had positive reports in camp thus far.
Local Takes: St. Louis Rams
There are a half dozen players all in need of reps, and only so many to go around in Thursday's preseason opener in Cleveland, as well as the other three preseason games. Figuring out the distribution of those reps adds another layer to the coaches' preseason workload.
"You just have to sit down and give it some thought," Fisher said. "Out of fairness to them, you want them all to have an opportunity to run behind the first line because that's a fair evaluation -- and run against good opponents. So, we're going to have to work that out the best we can."
Many people don't view Richardson as the type of back that can carry a full-season's workload, but he could end up being the back that takes the lead this season in front of Pead and others.
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It is always difficult to know what to expect in a preseason game, especially the first game of the year. Chudzinski has said that his starters will be out there for the first quarter, before leading into about two quarters of the second string and finally getting in the third string for the final period. His starters won't include Trent Richardson or safety T.J. Ward though, and that's a slight detriment to the Browns -- who overall are the worse of the two teams when it comes to regular-season predictions.
The NFC is the much stronger conference than the AFC, and that trickles down to St. Louis, a team that would likely be a strong playoff contender if it played in the AFC West. While Cleveland is a team that looks like it is on the upswing, they don't have the depth or the talent upfront to compete with the Rams on a normal basis.
Of course, there is nothing normal about a preseason Week 1 game, but we do the best we can with what we have. Neither offense looks explosive right now, probably leading to a low-scoring affair.
Rams 17, Browns 6
The Rams are favored by 2.5 points, according to Oddshark.com.
Expect to see a lot more familiar faces next week after teams shake off the rust in preseason Week 1.
The Browns stay at home, taking on the Detroit Lions in FirstEnergy Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 15 at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Meanwhile, the Rams play in Edward Jones Stadium for the first time this year when the Green Bay Packers come to town on Saturday, Aug. 17 at 8 p.m. ET.