BEREA: The Browns entered this week relatively healthy, but the situation changed as they prepared for their regular-season opener Sunday against the visiting Miami Dolphins.
Now they’ll need to overcome injuries to avoid collapsing at the starting line.
As expected, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski officially ruled out rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, the sixth overall pick who’s recovering from a bruised lung, following practice Friday.
But the more pressing concern in terms of the opener is that starting right cornerback Buster Skrine and starting left defensive end Ahtyba Rubin did not practice Friday and are listed as questionable on the team’s injury report.
Chudzinski said Skrine suffered a shoulder injury Thursday during practice and Rubin felt the effects of a strained calf after the same session. Chudzinski said the team would wait and see how both players responded to treatment Friday and Saturday and then determine their status for the game.
“We all, on this defense, prepare like we’re starters,” said backup left outside linebacker Quentin Groves, who’s expected to receive increased playing time with Mingo removed from the rotation of pass rushers. “So when one man goes out, it’s the next man up. This being my sixth year, I’ve been in this situation before. If my number’s called, I go in and perform at the best of my ability, and the defense will never miss a beat. That’s the thing that we pride ourselves on.”
The Browns are built to absorb injuries in the front seven of their defense, but the same cannot be said about the secondary. So even though Rubin, at this point, is the best player of the three who are hurt and Mingo has the most recognizable name because he’s a top-10 pick, Skrine’s status could be the most crucial for Sunday.
Skrine was on the field and in uniform Friday as he worked out on a stationary bike during the 30-minute portion of practice open to the media. He didn’t do anything else, even though a league source told the Beacon Journal Thursday night that Skrine is expected to play Sunday.
If Skrine cannot play, Chris Owens would likely start opposite left cornerback Joe Haden. Owens acknowledge the Dolphins have a trio of formidable receivers — Mike Wallace, GlenOak High School graduate Brian Hartline and slot man Brandon Gibson — that could give the defensive backs headaches even if they’re at full strength.
“They’re damn good,” Owens said. “They’ve got a lot of money in that receiving corps.”
It’s also notable that Owens missed the final two preseason games with a strained foot arch.
“The foot is good,” said Owens, who signed a one-year deal with the Browns in March. “No pain, nothing. I feel good. I’m ready to go. No excuses on Sunday.”
Rookie Leon McFadden would be thrust into action in the defense’s nickel package if Skrine is unavailable. The Browns have only four cornerbacks on their active roster — Skrine, Owens, Haden and McFadden, a third-round pick in this year’s draft.
McFadden struggled in the final two preseason games after sitting out the first two with a strained groin. He surrendered several big plays.
“I just take whatever mistakes I had on film, I take those and correct them,” McFadden said. “That’s what I’ve been doing in practice. So I don’t have none of those errors anymore. I’m a lot more confident now. I got my feet wet, and I’m excited to play now.
“It came down to technique, and that’s something that I’m honing in on and working on every day. That was like, ‘You know what? You’re in the NFL. Everybody’s the best of the best, and you have to stay on your toes at all times.’ ”
The Browns could make a roster move to supplement the secondary. They also could move one of three safeties — Tashaun Gipson, Johnson Bademosi or undrafted rookie Josh Aubrey — to corner.
“We’re going to have to figure out a way to make it happen,” Haden said. “Buster, he’s been working real hard. That’ll be a big setback for him. As far as our defense is concerned, it’s next man up, and we have to do what we got to do.”
If Rubin is out, John Hughes, a third-round pick in last year’s draft, could start at left end. Billy Winn, a sixth-round pick in last year’s draft, would be another candidate, but he played mostly right end in the summer.
“I think that our D-line is a tight-knit group,” Hughes said. “And I think we can pull through if we all contribute and do our part.”
Rubin missed three-plus games last season with an injured calf. But Chudzinski said, “It’s a completely different injury.”
As for Mingo, he was diagnosed with a bruised lung after he left a preseason game Aug. 15 against the Detroit Lions because he was spitting up blood and experiencing shortness of breath. He spent two nights at the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus and didn’t resume running and weightlifting until last week. Mingo practiced throughout this week on a limited basis, but he sat out contact drills.
“I’m disappointed,” said Mingo, who reiterated that he believes he was hurt during the opening kickoff against the Lions. “I want to be out there with the team. I want to be out there in my first game. But look on the bright side — I’m doing better.
“It was kind of getting boring watching. I needed to get out there, and so I was happy this week that I was able to get out there and do that.”
Mingo said he has felt good since he resumed practicing. He said he has not spit up blood or experienced shortness of breath since Aug. 15.
“We’ve been evaluating and testing him on a daily basis — the doctors have been constantly doing that,” Chudzinski said. “So we’ll hold him out, and he’s not ready to go yet for this week.”
When asked if Mingo could play in Week 2 against the Baltimore Ravens, Chudzinski said, “We’ll see next week.”
Mingo was also vague about his level of optimism regarding the possibility of playing in Week 2.
“I’m coming back whenever they let me,” Mingo said. “We’ll see what they say whenever they say it. The coaches, the doctors, whenever they tell me I can go out, then I’ll go back.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.