CLEVELAND -- Here are five things to take from the preseason opener between the Browns and Packers, with one team rebuilding, and the other defending a championship ...
1. The Real McCoy
Here's another: Last night, between his own chances with the ball, McCoy stood and watched Aaron Rodgers operate the West Coast offense he's trying to master. The second-year quarterback was -- as the Packers went into hurry-up mode on a touchdown drive -- trying to keep up and call out plays as Green Bay ran them.
McCoy told me he spent a lot of time watching tape of Rodgers in the offseason, and it was "cool" being able to recognize what he was looking at in real time at a quickened pace. It's a little thing, yes, but another example of how thorough McCoy is. The fact that he went 9 for 10 passing for 135 yards and a touchdown, spreading the ball to six different receivers, didn't hurt, either.
Nor does the way he approached that success, explaining to me after the game, "We're not patting ourselves on the back by any means. ... We have to make the same improvements as we made last week to this week. Last week, we played in a scrimmage, we didn't look that good. So we come back, we work, we get our spacing right, our receivers do a great job of winning matchups. The point is we have to continue to make those jumps each week if we want to be ready to go in the regular season."
2. The value of workouts
"There's football, so all hope is restored," All-Pro Clay Matthews told me. "We feel good about where we're at. Obviously, there's room for improvement. We need to get better, there's no doubt about that. But we can do that."
Rodgers' 21-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings -- his last attempt of the game and an absolute laser of a back-shoulder strike -- was the kind that required timing and symmetry between quarterback and receiver. So it seems as if those guys haven't missed a beat. And that whole drive -- a hardly interrupted, 73-yard march in which Rodgers completed all six of his attempts and ran the no-huddle attack deftly -- was another example that Green Bay needed the work less than most.
Of course, these are two teams in very different positions going into the season.
3. It comes from within
The Packers stood largely pat during the free-agent frenzy of the last few weeks, but there are several areas where improvement can be expected from the champs, for two reasons. First, this team remains loaded with ascending players. Second, a number of guys will be coming off injury.
Tailback Ryan Grant looked spry last night and proved he's still able to turn the corner on a defense in his first game action since getting hurt last year, finishing with a modest 13 yards on three carries. Next week, Jermichael Finley, who could be a real difference-maker at tight end, should make his return to game action. Finley went through some warmups with the team, but the staff decided to play it safe with him.
Then there's veteran Charles Woodson, who broke his collarbone in the Super Bowl. Woodson, as he has the last few years, sat out the preseason opener as a maintenance measure. But he told me -- while wearing a weighted vest for a pregame workout last night -- that he's pushed himself hard in practice. He's taken less time to pace himself during camp this summer than in any of his years as a Packer.
4. Trial by fire
We've heard a lot about how rookies across the league are going to be hard-pressed to get on the field this fall. Someone should pass the memo along to Pat Shurmur and his staff.
The Browns have shown no qualms about tossing their rookies into the fire, and some didn't look out of place running with the first team. Cleveland's first two draft picks, defensive tackle Phil Taylor and defensive end Jabaal Sheard, have run with the first unit since Day 1 of camp, and both started against the Packers.
On offense, Greg Little -- the receiver who came with one of the picks acquired in the Julio Jones blockbuster -- played with McCoy's group and stayed in when Seneca Wallace took over. He was up and down, catching two of the five of balls thrown his way, but got the valuable reps the staff wanted to give him. Of course, all of this is also a recognition of where the Browns are at as a team still tearing down some things and trying to get younger.
5. Football first
The Indians are in the middle of a pennant race, and were playing across town at the same time as the Browns, drawing a nice crowd of about 30,000. But I don't think there's any question of where this city's mind was at around 8 p.m. ET, which was seeing McCoy running Shurmur's offense for the first time.
Football's become the most popular sport, at one level or another, in almost every U.S. market (exceptions being a couple Northeastern cities, St. Louis and maybe Los Angeles). It always has been that way in Cleveland, in the cradle of the professional sport, and really across this entire state.
One thing's for sure: When a group of football people come in and finally give the city a winning football team -- what might just be taking place under Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert and Shurmur -- this is going to be one cool place for those folks to work.