By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
When the Browns resume practice today, coach Rob Chudzinski will prepare his starters to play on the road in the preseason finale Thursday night against the Chicago Bears.
Many first-string players throughout the NFL won’t appear in the last set of exhibition games, but Chudzinski’s starters certainly didn’t convince him they deserve a break after the Browns’ 27-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“We’re going to approach this next game that those guys are going to play,” Chudzinski said Sunday during a conference call. “And then I’ll make that determination later in the week as it goes on.”
The Browns won their first two exhibition games with their starters outscoring the St. Louis Rams and the Detroit Lions 34-3 in those matchups. But on Saturday, quarterback Brandon Weeden and the rest of the starting offense failed to find a rhythm, and the first-string defense was on its heels in the “dress rehearsal” exhibition game against the Colts. Cleveland’s starters were outscored 17-3.
Chudzinski acknowledged the offense’s disappointing performance against the Colts could influence him to play his starters in the preseason finale, but he insisted the potential for a long period of downtime before the Sept. 8 regular-season opener against the visiting Miami Dolphins is a more important factor to consider. If the starters sit out in Chicago, they’ll go 14 days without live game action before the opener.
“That’s a decent amount of time without playing a game,” Chudzinski said. “That’s something that weighs into it.”
But those aren’t the only factors.
“Obviously the two things that you’re weighing are putting them out there and exposing them in a preseason game to injury versus [having] a new system and wanting the guys to get more reps,” Chudzinski said. “And [we have] a lot of young guys. We’re playing a lot of young guys that just haven’t played a lot of football in the NFL. So that combination of a new system and not having a lot of experience is something that the preseason can help with. So those are the things we’ll be working through and thinking through as we get updates and those types of things on injuries. And where we’re at with all that, that will all kind of play into it.”
Speaking of injuries, Chudzinski had mostly positive news Sunday.
Starting right outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard (knee), wide receiver Davone Bess (tendinitis in knee), tight end Gary Barnidge (sprained AC joint in shoulder) and wide receiver Jordan Norwood (hamstring) will practice today after sitting out against the Colts. Wide receiver David Nelson (bone bruise in right knee) will play Thursday against the Bears after missing the first three exhibition games, Chudzinski said.
Backup quarterback Jason Campbell was shaken up and walked to the sideline with medical personnel Saturday after Colts linebacker Caesar Rayford strip-sacked him with 4:46 left in the fourth quarter.
In his postgame news conference, Chudzinski said nothing was wrong with Campbell, and he stuck to his original report Sunday.
“He’s OK,” Chudzinski said.
On the grim side, rookie free safety Jamoris Slaughter suffered a pulled groin Saturday, Chudzinski said. Slaughter, a sixth-round pick, missed time during training camp with an injured hamstring.
“We’ll hold him from practice tomorrow, and then we’ll just evaluate him on a day-to-day basis,” Chudzinski said.
Meanwhile, the diagnosis for rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo is still a bruised lung, Chudzinski said. Mingo, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, hasn’t practiced or played since he left the game Aug. 15 against the Lions.
“He’s doing well,” Chudzinski said. “He’s been riding the [stationary] bike. We have a lot of faith, and the doctors are some of the best in the world at the Cleveland Clinic. So we’re following their advice on it, and we’ll get him out there as soon as he’s cleared.”
Will Mingo do more while rehabilitating this week?
“That’s the plan as there’s improvement,” Chudzinski said. “So as far as a timetable, there’s no specific or definite timetable.”
So Chudzinski will contemplate several things before making a final decision about whether to play his starters. But what Bears coach Marc Trestman decides to do with his starters won’t affect Chudzinski.
“No, that won’t have anything to do with it,” Chudzinski said.
Heading into halftime Saturday, Chudzinski planned to keep the starters on the field for only one series of the third quarter. But after Weeden and Co. went three-and-out to start the second half, Chudzinski kept them in the game for an extra series. It allowed the first-team offense to establish a sliver of momentum by setting up Shayne Graham’s successful 50-yard field goal with 7:16 left in the third quarter.
Those were the first points the Browns scored during their dreadful performance.
Weeden completed 12-of-25 (48 percent) passes for 105 yards, nearly threw two interceptions and posted a passer rating of 59.6. Through the first two preseason games, he completed 18-of-25 (72 percent) passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and a rating of 139.8.
“I think it was a combination of things,” Chudzinski said of Weeden’s regression. “We had some protection breakdowns, and there were some pressures and he got hit a couple of times actually delivering the ball. He started out 6-for-6, so early on in the game, I think he was going through his progressions and hitting mostly shorter passes at that point in the game. But [the Colts’ defenders] covered very well, so there were a number of times there really weren’t guys open, and he had to get to his check downs or throw the ball away at times. We had some drops, and we did have some missed opportunities. He can play better. He has, and we can continue to help him.”
Greg Little led the starting receivers with three catches for 28 yards, which illustrates the lack of overall production. He also lost a fumble. Wide receiver Josh Gordon, tight end Jordan Cameron and running back Brandon Jackson each dropped a pass.
“[The receivers] played much better in the first couple games,” Chudzinski said. “Indianapolis has a real good secondary, and they did a good job of covering our guys. We need to keep working and improving and working on our technique and then making the plays when we have opportunities.”
Perhaps the starters aren’t finished receiving opportunities this preseason. For now, Chudzinski is leaning toward playing them at least a little bit more before the real games begin.
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.