CLEVELAND —How the Browns fare in 2009 will remain a mystery until the season starts Sept. 13, if not longer.
But tonight’s preseason game against the Tennessee Titans could provide the greatest glimpse into what’s ahead this fall in the first year under coach Eric Mangini. The third preseason game is the dress rehearsal for the season, as the starters play into the third quarter, if not three full quarters.
The week leading up to the game featured an increase in film study, and a greater chunk of practice time was devoted to working against the Titans’ plays and preparing for their personnel. Browns receiver Joshua Cribbs even donned a red No. 10 jersey to simulate Tennessee backup quarterback Vince Young.
“Film study’s been very serious,” receiver Braylon Edwards said. “Just studying these guys’ scouting reports have been thicker and more in-depth.
“So with that said, (Mangini’s) very serious about this third game, as it relates to how our season will be run. We’re going to get after it and this will be a gametime rehearsal for Sept. 13 against the Minnesota Vikings. Not to mention, this is a good team we’re going against.”
The Browns opened the preseason with a lackluster effort in a 17-0 loss to playoff contender Green Bay. They bounced back with a convincing 27-10 win, but it came against dreadful Detroit.
The Titans should be better than both. They are Super Bowl contender following a 13-3 2008 season in which they ranked second in points allowed (14.6 a game).
“It’s going to be a good test for us,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “We made progress from Week 1 to Week 2, we want to build on last week’s win and play well as a defense.
“I think we’re ready to put it all together at this point.”
That doesn’t include picking a starting quarterback. Mangini said this week the battle between Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn remains even and he’ll try to balance their playing time tonight. He was asked if this game will play a bigger role in determining a starter.
“I’d say it’s a piece of the puzzle,” Mangini said.
“They’ve had time to evaluate us over the offseason, camp and games so far, so it’s another piece of the puzzle, I guess,” Quinn said.
Despite the clock steadily ticking toward the opener, Mangini said he remains confident the winner will become apparent in enough time.
“Yes, I do. I’ve had experience with this before,” he said. “I feel that it will probably follow the same path, and if it doesn’t and it’s close, then I’ll make the decision and that will be the decision.
“It will be based on what I feel will give us the best chance to win.”
Mangini held true to his policy of not publicly naming the starter for tonight. He said he would tell the quarterbacks the plan Friday night.
The late notice and irregular substitution pattern — Anderson threw two passes against Green Bay, Quinn five against Detroit — are used by Mangini to see how the competitors handle the stress that accompanies uncertainty and being taken out of a rhythm.
“I guess it’s a way of testing us in some ways,” Quinn said. “I don’t look at it as a stress.
“There’s much more stressful situations you could be put in. We’re still playing football, a game we love. When our number is called we go in and play. That’s kind of the attitude we take towards it.”
Anderson and Quinn have different personalities, and contrasting strengths and weaknesses. But they agree on the approach needed in a highly anticipated, hotly contested, closely watched competition.
“You just kinda be ready and deal with the situation as it comes up, however it may be,” Anderson said. “I’m just going to go in when he tells me to go in and take advantage of every play that gets called, and hopefully they’re all positive.”
Mangini has other issues to focus on tonight.
The Browns have committed 18 penalties in two games, including 11 for 85 yards against the Lions. They have managed just one sack in two games and need to do a more consistent job running the ball. Choices need to be made at center and No. 2 receiver.
But the questions will always return to the quarterbacks until a decision’s been made.
“I think (the closeness of the competition’s) a really good thing,” Mangini said. “I think it’s a credit to both of them. They’ve both been competitive. They’ve both worked hard at the things that we’ve asked them to do.
“It’s not always easy to be fiercely competitive and fiercely loyal to the team, and I think both of them have been that.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or email@example.com.