The Browns ended their preseason with a rookie kicker and rookie punter handling everything – punts, holds and place-kickers – and neither flinched.
For the second game in a row Austin Seibert was 4-for-4 with field goals of 36 and 33 yards and two PATs.
Converted Scottish rugby player Jamie Gillan didn’t outkick his coverage, averaging only 44.3 on six punts, but he was flawless on all his holds for Seibert and he made two tackles after punts.
So after the Browns sat all 22 projected starters on offense and defense and dispatched the Detroit Lions, 20-16, to conclude a 3-1 preseason, among coach Freddie Kitchens’ roster decisions is whether to entrust specialist duties to two rookies.
Seibert would appear to be a no-brainer. Kitchens had said incumbent Greg Joseph would kick in the final game, but that plan was scuttled as Kitchens seemingly prepared Seibert for the season-opener in FirstEnergy Stadium.
“We’re not talking about any [roster] decisions,” Kitchens said. “He went 4-for-4 [last week], so he got another chance.”
For the first time, Seibert conceded that missed kicks at practice in the early stages of training camp tested his faith – in himself and in God.
“When you miss kicks, your teammates lose trust in you and you have to believe in yourself,” Seibert said. “But that’s where my trust in God came in. I kept praying and kept playing.
“I think I did everything in my power to get the best out of myself towards the end of this camp. I am happy with the results and the way I kicked the last two weeks.”
Gillan’s chances of unseating reliable veteran punter Britton Colquitt were small from the start, especially considering his problems with holding on place-kicks. He’d never done it before.
But Seibert said Gillan “definitely transformed as a holder over the last three months,” and his powerful left leg spoke for itself.
If Gillan is among the Browns’ roster cuts, he is hopeful to find a job with another team.
“I think what will land me a job is punting well,” he said. “I just need to keep getting more consistent. It was nice to get holding in because I know everybody talks about how holding is going to be a problem for me.”
Among the handful of jobs up for grabs at the back end of the roster is a receiver opening, and ex-Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller might have seized it after only one week in camp.
Miller had three catches for 19 yards, but had a couple wiped out by penalty.
“I thought he did well,” Kitchens said. “He had a couple balls called back. He took one screen and made something out of it when it didn’t look like there was much there. Used his hands well. I thought he did well.”
Another player on the roster bubble, tight end Seth DeValve, had a quiet night with one catch for 8 yards on two targets.
So Kitchens and GM John Dorsey and the personnel staff will huddle Friday to start paring down the roster to 53. They have until Saturday at 4 p.m. to complete the roster, and then will probably add a few off the waiver wire.
“I like our team,” Kitchens said. “This is never easy.
“We’re going to have some good football players, some good guys. When somebody busts your ass for you and do everything you want them to do, it’s hard to make those business decisions to let people go. There’s going to be some of those decisions made that are going to be very difficult.”
Kitchens accomplished enough in his tough practices – especially the joint sessions with the Indianapolis Colts – to evaluate and formulate his team without subjecting his starters to the risks of injury. Rookie guard Drew Forbes was not as fortunate; he went down with a possible serious knee injury in the first quarter.
“I respect the hell out of the locker room,” Kitchens said. “They came together. We’re truly not the Cleveland Browns until tomorrow. And then we’re still looking to improve.
“I think we built toughness. We proved to ourselves we could be tough. That’s more so the case than anything. I think we were resilient. We showed we were in it together. We just need to build on those things.”