Browns to watch vs. Bucs: McCown, Murray return to Tampa
So the Cleveland Browns are in town, with two days of joint practices with the Bucs leading up to Friday's preseason game at Raymond James Stadium. It's the first home game for the Bucs, who will unveil their cool new video boards, but first, here are five Browns storylines to follow:
1. Homecoming, Part 1: As if there weren't enough escalating drama in Roberto Aguayo's first NFL preseason -- missed PAT in first game, two missed field goals in second game -- he's in outright soap-opera mode this week. It's not enough that Pat Murray, the Bucs' 2014 kicker and one of two kickers released after Aguayo was drafted, is playing against the Bucs on Friday night. He also gets to share a practice field with Aguayo for two days.
Murray, who missed last season with an ACL injury, could get the Browns' job at 25 -- he's connected on his only field-goal attempt, from 46 yards, and made his only extra point last week, while challenger Travis Coons missed his. His stats two years ago -- 20-of-24 on field goals, 31-of-31 on the old shorter PATs -- would be an acceptable season for most NFL kickers.
2. Homecoming, Part 2: Josh McCown is back! His 2014 with the Bucs wasn't as blissful as Murray's, going 1-10 as a starter in Lovie Smith's first season. He's now 37 and the backup to Robert Griffin III after going 1-7 as a starter with Cleveland last year. Here's what's funny: he had 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions with the Bucs, but add up his 2013 with the Bears and 2015 with the Browns and he has 25 touchdowns against only five interceptions. The Bucs cut him loose before free agency last spring and he actually signed for more money with Cleveland than he would have gotten from Tampa -- there's still talk he could be traded, which would mean the new Browns backup is Austin Davis, whose first career win came against the Bucs with the Rams in 2014. I'm probably opening too many old wounds here.
3. Homecoming, Part 3: It's a little more obscure, but Plant High's Eric Patterson is now with the Browns, after a well-traveled rookie season in 2015. Patterson, a cornerback from Ball State, signed with the Patriots and was cut, was signed and cut by the Colts three times, then signed with the Rams and was cut again before landing with the Browns this summer. He played in three games and had three tackles last year, and he's off to a good start with Cleveland, getting the team's only interception and six tackles in two games.
4. Robert Griffin III: He's been to Raymond James Stadium before -- in the first month of his stellar rookie season in 2012, Griffin came to Tampa and went 26-for-35 for 323 yards, rushing for 36 yards and a touchdown in a 24-22 win over the Bucs. Down a point at his own 20 with 1:42 to play, Griffin went 4-for-4 for 46 yards (with a spike) and rushed 15 yards to help set up the game-winning kick for Washington.
It's been a rough run in the last three seasons, however -- after going 9-6 as a rookie, he went 3-10 in 2013, then 2-5 in 2014 and didn't play at all in 2015. The Bucs played a role in Kirk Cousins' ascension to Redskins star, taking a 24-0 lead last year only to see Cousins rally back for three second-half touchdowns and a 31-30 win. "You like that?" he said after the game. Griffin's fresh start with Cleveland could be one of the NFL's best stories.
5. Josh Gordon's return. In 2013, Gordon led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards and also caught nine touchdowns, but's it's been trouble ever since, with suspensions limiting him -- he didn't play a snap in 2015 while serving a substance-abuse suspension. He's been reinstated, and while he is suspended for the first four games of 2016, he can play in the preseason and could make a big return Friday in Tampa. He's been limited by a quad injury, but could be reunited with his old Baylor QB -- he caught seven touchdown passes in 2010 as Griffin emerged as a college star.
Cleveland has several individual talents that will challenge the Bucs -- tackle Joe Thomas and cornerback Joe Haden, for instance -- but Gordon will be a good test for the Bucs cornerbacks all week.