By TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer
BEREA, Ohio (AP) — There will be a quarterback debut in the Hall of Fame game, just not that one.
While Aaron Rodgers waits to play his first game with the New York Jets, the Cleveland Browns will sit starter Deshaun Watson in Thursday night’s exhibition so they can get a longer look at some backup QBs.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Tuesday that third-stringer Kellen Mond, who signed with Cleveland at the end of training camp last season, will start the NFL’s first preseason game and that rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson will also get some extended time.
Jets coach Robert Saleh had previously announced that the 39-year-old Rodgers, who recently restructured his contract, wouldn’t play and reiterated that backup Zach Wilson, the 2021 No. 2 overall pick who has struggled as a pro, will start against the Browns.
It’s not yet clear when Rodgers will make his debut in green and white. The Jets play at Carolina on Aug. 12 after two joint practice sessions, but Rodgers hasn’t taken a snap in a preseason game since 2018.
“With these new joint practices, those kind of serve as that time, although I’m not getting hit,” Rodgers said. “I wouldn’t mind playing in the preseason. If Rob (Saleh) said, ‘Hey, we’re going to go,’ whatever — go, let’s do it. Most coaches just have that fear where they’d rather get you to Week 1 than risk it.
“But I believe there’s a chance for the last one, and that we’ll probably use Carolina and Tampa — those joint practices — as kind of our preseason tuneup.”
Stefanski is eager to see Mond, who is competing with Thompson-Robinson for a roster spot. It’s possible one of them winds up on the practice squad.
“Kellen’s done a great job,” Stefanski said. “There was a period of just getting to know him early in the season last year. So he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. I’ve been very impressed with him both in the meeting room and on the practice field.
“And the fun part for our players, as you know, is to play these games. So I think Kellen’s excited about the opportunity.”
Mond said exactly that following Tuesday’s practice, the first at the team’s training facility following a week-long trip to West Virginia.
“I’m really excited,” said Mond, who is behind both Watson and Joshua Dobbs on Cleveland’s depth chart. “First time putting a Browns jersey on in a game.”
The 24-year-old Mond has shown steady improvement with the Browns, who claimed him off waivers a year ago from Minnesota. This will be Mond’s first chance to showcase his skills in a game setting and the former Texas A&M standout appreciates there will be more eyes on him than just Cleveland’s coaches.
“When you start to get more experience in the NFL, you start to realize whatever you put on tape is going to be what people think of you and going to be your results,” he said. “So every time you step on the field, your goal should be put good film on tape, play well, execute, and at the end of the day, put the ball in the end zone.”
That’s the goal for Thompson-Robinson, a fifth-round pick from UCLA.
The confident 23-year-old will play the second half along with other rookies and backups fighting for precious roster spots. This will be a new experience for Thompson-Robinson, who has begun to appreciate the nuance of playing the game’s most demanding position at the highest level.
“I’m really good when it comes to the cerebral side of football things and being able to grasp a playbook and go out there and execute,” he said. “But this is my first time having to call plays in the huddle, having to get it (the play call) in a headset and being able to spit it out. And we don’t have the shortest of play calls.
“So that’s probably the No. 1 thing I’m going to be focusing on, for sure. Making sure I can get guys lined up and making sure that everybody’s on the same page.”
NOTES: Rookie CB Cameron Mitchell had the day’s biggest play when he intercepted Watson, who was attempting a pass toward WR Amari Cooper. … Special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone thought he was late for practice when he got near the facility in the morning and saw numerous cars as fans began arriving early. “People are outside tailgating at like 6 a.m.,” said Ventrone, who played for Cleveland from 2009-12. … K Cade York went 3 for 3 during the two-minute drill, making kicks from 44, 33 and 41 yards.