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T.J. Ward has surgery on right thumb, leaving Browns short-handed at safety

By Nate Ulrich Published: October 1, 2012

Browns starting strong safety T.J. Ward had surgery on his right thumb a couple of days ago, coach Pat Shurmur said this afternoon.

Shurmur described Ward’s status as “day-to-day.” It’s unclear whether he’ll be able to play Sunday when the Browns (0-4) visit the New York Giants (2-2).

“We’ll see,” starting free safety Usama Young said. “We’ve had guys have surgery and come play, so we don’t know. We’ve gotta wait and see. I know T.J. will try to fight through it. It’s gonna take a lot to keep him off the field, so who knows?”

The surgery Ward underwent is akin to the one special-teams ace and safety Ray “Bubba” Ventrone had after he broke his hand Sept. 9 in the regular-season opener, Shurmur said. Ventrone missed the Browns’ Week 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals following the surgery, but he returned in Week 3 against the Buffalo Bills and has been playing with a cast on his hand. Shurmur believes Ward will be able to return because Ventrone has played.

“Same procedure Bubba had, and he’s back,” Shurmur said.

If Ward sits out against the Giants, the Browns could move Young to strong safety, where he played last season. But Young is dealing with an injury, too. He suffered a knee injury Thursday night against the Baltimore Ravens but practiced today.

“Feeling a lot better,” Young said. “We’ll see. I’ve gotta take it day by day. I was able to do some moving around on it. I’m moving around on it pretty good.”

Eric Hagg is a candidate to return to the starting lineup. Hagg started the first two games of the season at free safety before being replaced by Young. Hagg was inactive the past two games.

“I’m very confident if he’s in there he’s gonna do great,” Shurmur said. “If he’s called on to play, he’ll go in there and, of course, we expect him to have a very productive game.”

Although Young has started the past two games at free safety, he has rotated with undrafted rookie Tashaun Gipson. Gipson also suffered a knee injury against the Ravens. He did not practice today.

After Young and Gipson were hurt, Ventrone entered the game for four defensive snaps Thursday night. He could continue to receive more playing time.

“I know the defense well,” Ventrone said. “I can play safety. Last preseason, we had guys banged up. I played pretty much the whole preseason at free [safety]. I’ve been here for a while. They know that I study just like I’m gonna be playing safety every week. I know that they can count on me to know my stuff.”

The Browns are also short-handed at wide receiver. Three of the six players who did not practice today are receivers: starter Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring), Josh Cribbs (concussion) and rookie Travis Benjamin (unknown). That leaves starter Greg Little, Jordan Norwood, rookie Josh Gordon and rookie Josh Cooper, who’s a member of the practice squad, as the only receivers who practiced.

“That’s just the nature of this business,” rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “The guys that are here gotta step up. We’re hoping good news on Mo. We’re hoping good news on Josh [Cribbs] and Travis as well. We’re hoping for the best, but if they’re not able to go, which we won’t know for several days, those other guys gotta step up.”

Will the Browns need to make a roster move to compensate for the injuries?

“We’ll have to see,” Shurmur said. “We’ll make the roster as good as we can make it. We’re gonna put the guys on the field that can play and will give us the best opportunity to win. So if we’ve got to use three tight ends, if we’ve got to use two receivers, whatever the combination is we’ve got plenty of plays and a lot of ideas. We’ll put the guys out there that’ll give us the best chance to win.”

Tight end Alex Smith (concussion) didn’t practice, either.

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