In this season-long, weekly series, I'll comb through the previous week's game and identify three players who had a strong outing and three players who didn't deliver as hoped or expected. As we're only one game into preseason, take this post for what it's worth. Certain players you'll see below are fighting for a roster spot, others are all but guaranteed a spot on the final 53.
Generally speaking, you won't find players like DeSean Jackson, Trent Williams and Alfred Morris in this series; those players might have an off week here or there, but they're also among the best in the league at their position and don't need to be broken down on a week-to-week basis here. Rather, this series will typically focus on backups and the players competing for more snaps.
#1. Preston Smith
In his first outing as a member of the Washington Redskins, Preston Smith was everywhere. Officially credited with a team-high five solo tackles, one sack and two tackles for a loss, the second-round pick out of Mississippi State was far more impressive than I expected him to be. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith played 31 snaps in Cleveland; he rushed the passer on 19 of those, dropped back into coverage three times and played the run nine times. According to my very unofficial notes, Smith had a direct impact on about half of those plays.
#2. Trent Murphy
Murphy was sort of the anti-Smith in this game. The second-year outside linebacker didn't fill up the stat sheet — he was credited with zero tackles, one pass breakup and one QB hurry — but he, too, made his presence felt throughout his time on the field.
The play that stood out to me most was the first touchdown of the game, which the Browns scored on their first drive. Facing a double-team off the bat, Murphy pulled a great fake on rookie o-lineman Cameron Erving to gain a clear opening on the inside, only to be shoved to the ground while off-balance by guard Joel Bitonio. While falling, Murphy swiped with his right arm and nearly got a hold on Josh McCown's foot, but the quarterback narrowly avoided the hand tackle while scrambling to his left. Terrance Knighton forced McCown back to his right, and Murphy continued in pursuit, but a blown coverage left Travis Benjamin wide open in the endzone for a touchdown. It was all for naught, technically, but Murphy put in a hell of an effort that nearly led to a sack.
#3. Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith
The least-heralded safety on the roster heading into the first preseason game, DMCS was perhaps the most pleasant surprise among the group. He recorded three tackles, including one sack where he chased down the QB by himself, but I was most impressed by the open-field tackle he made on 2nd-and-9 on the Browns' third drive of the second quarter. Johnny Manziel hit Darius Jennings about three yards out, and if Jennings could shake DMCS, he had an easy first down, if not a huge touchdown. Instead, Cromartie-Smith wrapped up the receiver and brought him down three yards short of the first-down marker, and two downs later, Cleveland was forced to punt.
Honorable mentions: Frank Kearse, Houston Bates
#1. Chris Thompson
Thompson muffed the punt two plays after Cromartie-Smith's open-field tackle, but that wasn't his biggest issue. I thought he looked incredibly impatient each time the ball was in his hands, whether he was on special teams or offense. He finished with five carries for 28 yards, which looks alright on paper, but one of those carries went for 14 yards and that was only because of solid blocking and a single nice juke. With the huge injury risk he carries, he has to perform better than he did in Cleveland to warrant a roster spot.
#2. Justin Rogers
He didn't come into the preseason with much acclaim, and he had no business playing as early as he did (injuries to just about every cornerback made that a reality), but Rogers looked overmatched while on the field. He got beat a handful of times and never made a play to make up for the shortcomings. His worst moment was when he got beat by Brian Hartline in the second quarter for a 14-yard gain and got called for illegal contact in the process. If not for Martrell Spaight, it might've gone for much more than 14 yards.
#3. Colt McCoy
Everybody and their cousin is writing about the Redskins' quarterback situation these days, so I won't elaborate much on this.
I thought Robert Griffin III looked OK and Kirk Cousins looked pretty good, but to me, Colt McCoy looked a step below the other two — and that was against the Browns' third-stringers. He wasn't awful, but his decision-making left a lot to be desired and his accuracy wasn't great. I think Cousins separated himself from McCoy a fair bit in this game.