BEREA: Instead of being engulfed by the most popular NFL guessing game of the week, the Browns are simply preparing as if they’re going to face rookie sensation Robert Griffin III on Sunday when the Washington Redskins invade Northeast Ohio.
Griffin, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Baylor University, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and believes his chances of playing this weekend are improving. He suffered a mild sprain of the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee late in the fourth quarter Sunday, when Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata ran into him. Griffin’s status remains uncertain.
“Today I felt really good about it,” Griffin said during a news conference.
Griffin, the second overall pick in this year’s draft, is wearing a knee brace and will be evaluated throughout the week. If he cannot play, rookie Kirk Cousins will start at quarterback for the Redskins (7-6).
The Browns (5-8), though, are counting on facing RG3. And defensive tackle Phil Taylor has a strategy for containing Griffin, his former college teammate.
“Fire off the [darn] ball,” Taylor said. “Whip the O-line [butt].”
That might be easier said than done, but it’s the key to combating Griffin’s mobility and the quarterback-option plays the Redskins use.
“You’ve got to be able to keep him inside the defense,” middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “Once he gets outside, he’s a dual threat. He looks to pass first, but he can also burn you with his legs.
“When an end gets nosy and goes inside and you have no edge to your defense, [it creates problems]. There’s an old saying: ‘If you have no edge to your defense, there’s no chance.’ He’s been able to take advantage of that with a lot of teams I’ve watched on film.”
Browns backup quarterback Colt McCoy is playing the role of Griffin in practice this week, coach Pat Shurmur said. However, trying to simulate Griffin’s ability is a futile effort.
“Colt definitely is giving us good looks to say the least, but being out there playing against No. 10 [Griffin] is a whole different ballgame in itself,” rookie free safety Tashaun Gipson said. “You can never duplicate a talent like that, a guy who’s one of the faster guys in the league, can also throw as well as [display] good decision making.”
But even if Griffin does play, his trademark speed might be hindered because of his injury. Still, Browns rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon, who played with Griffin for one season at Baylor, believes RG3 can be dangerous as a pocket passer, too.
“He’s got an arm on him,” Gordon said. “He really doesn’t look maybe that big upper-body-wise, but he can throw it about just as well or just as hard or far as anybody else I’ve seen throw the ball. I definitely think he can [be a good pocket passer] if he focuses on that and wants that to become part of his game. He can definitely probably be one of the best at doing that.”
Of course, there’s also a possibility Cousins, a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, will enter the spotlight again. After Griffin was hurt, Cousins threw a touchdown pass and ran for a two-point conversion to force overtime in the Redskins’ 31-28 win over the Ravens.
“We don’t have much film on Cousins outside of the preseason and the last minute of the last game,” Gipson said. “He’s definitely capable, but not to disrespect him, he’s not a Robert Griffin. So we’re preparing for Robert Griffin, and if we see Cousins come out there and he takes the first snaps under center and that’s who’s going to be the quarterback of the day, we’re just going to adjust on the fly and go from there. But as of right now, we’re looking at it as we’re playing RG3.”
Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris views the situation the same way. During a conference call, Morris said he believes Griffin will play Sunday because he’s “a tough guy” and he looked good in practice.
“He’s moving fine and everything,” Morris said. “I couldn’t tell that he had an injury. Either he’s a great actor or that’s him.”
Return man/wide receiver Josh Cribbs will serve as a captain Sunday in what could be his final home game as a member of the Browns. Cribbs’ contract expires in March, and CEO Joe Banner has not talked to him about re-signing.
“Not at all,” Cribbs said. “So we all know what that means.”
It means Cribbs might play at Cleveland Browns Stadium beyond this season, but he could be visiting town as an opposing player.
“I’m like, ‘Oh my, this is my last [home] game,’ ” Cribbs said. “But I know for sure I’m playing in the NFL and will probably play the Browns again in the stadium.”
Although Cribbs has thought about the possibility of playing for another team, he hopes it doesn’t happen.
“I want to end my career here,” Cribbs said. “I’ve raised my family here, went to college [at Kent State University]. If I were to go somewhere else, it’d be foreign territory for me. I don’t see myself having any other fans. It’s just my second home, and really my first home — I’ve been here my whole adult life.”
Cribbs is one of several Browns players who might play in Cleveland for the final time. Kicker Phil Dawson, tight end Benjamin Watson, cornerback Sheldon Brown, wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, linebacker Kaluka Maiava, defensive end Juqua Parker, special-teamer Ray Ventrone, fullback Alex Smith and punter Reggie Hodges are also unsigned beyond this season.
But Cribbs and Dawson are the most notable members of that group because they’ve been standouts and they have the longest tenures with the organization. Cribbs has been with the Browns since 2005, and Dawson is the only remaining player from the 1999 expansion season.
“If this is his last [home] game, I don’t even want to consider it,” Jackson said of Cribbs. “I played with him far too long, and I’ve seen this guy have a hall of fame-type [career]. He’s one of the Browns, him and Phil [Dawson]. I would say he’s one of those Browns that you don’t want him to leave. I can’t fathom him not being here.”
When asked if the thought of playing his final home game as a member of the Browns makes him sad, Cribbs said: “I’m still going to be playing football, so I’m not worried about that part. But I’m sure it will be [sad]. But not yet.”
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden displayed his self-deprecating humor when asked about awkwardly sliding Sunday in the first quarter of the Browns’ 30-7 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I might get the Slip ‘N Slide back out,” Weeden said. “Going down I felt all right, then all of a sudden I took out a chunk of turf the size of a basketball.
“I wanted to sit on the ground and just kind of stare at it and play it off like the receivers look at their hands when they drop the ball. It was like, dadgumit. I had to fill in the crater I had just created. [It] wasn’t the most athletic thing I’ve ever done. That’s for sure.”
Weeden said he has received some grief about the play.
“My wife has given me a little hell and people we went out to dinner with that night were joking about it,” he said. “Colt [McCoy] threw a little dagger.”
All 53 players on the Browns’ active roster practiced Wednesday. Cribbs (knee), Thomas (back) and Parker (knee) were limited. … Linebacker London Fletcher (ankle) was the only Redskins player who didn’t practice. … Rookie Travis Benjamin was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. “It’s a great feeling,” he said. Benjamin, who returned a punt 93 yards for a touchdown Sunday in the second quarter. … Left tackle Joe Thomas is one of 10 nominees for the 2013 Bart Starr Award, which honors an NFL player for outstanding character and leadership on and off the field. … Cribbs is first among AFC special teamers in Pro Bowl fan voting with 86,945 votes. He’s also second among AFC kicker returners (93,693); Dawson is fourth among AFC kickers (67,668); Jackson is second among AFC inside linebackers (108,650); and Thomas is fifth among AFC offensive tackles (126,992).
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.