By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton has experienced flashbacks while studying Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush in preparation for their showdown Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
Horton sees the version of Bush, 28, that won the Heisman Trophy while playing for the University of Southern California in 2005. After signing a four-year contract reportedly worth more than $16 million to join the Lions (3-2) in March, Bush has 61 carries for 298 yards (4.9 average) and a touchdown to go along with 15 catches for 204 yards and another touchdown this season.
“Reggie’s a threat when he’s on the field,” Horton said Thursday before practice. “I would say he reminds me looking at him back at the USC days. He’s a threat to get the ball. They want to get the ball to him whether it’s on the long swing pass, a handoff, a toss, a reverse. He’s just a dangerous player in space. His longest play was a [77-yard] screen pass that was phenomenal to watch him run. Really it went back to the USC-Texas days of basketball on grass.”
The Browns (3-2) have the NFL’s fourth-ranked defense (301.8 yards allowed per game). They’re ranked eighth against the run (94.2 yards allowed per game) and seventh against the pass (207.6 yards allowed per game).
Still, they could benefit from starting right outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard returning to the lineup. Sheard hasn’t played since he sprained his left knee Sept. 22 while recovering a fumble during the third quarter in a win over the Minnesota Vikings, but he might be ready to return Sunday. He practiced Wednesday and Thursday on a limited basis. Backup left outside linebacker and special-teams captain Quentin Groves also practiced the past two days on a limited basis after suffering a high-ankle sprain Sept. 15 against the Baltimore Ravens.
“The play [Sheard] got hurt on was a fantastic play, a big play in the Minnesota game,” Horton said. “Jabaal was playing very well for us. He’s a very smart player, and he allows us to do things. The thing I have been saying all season is depth is critical for our team, and he’s one of our better players. Getting him back and getting Quentin Groves back enables our special teams and defense to play better.”
When asked if Sheard would get his starting job back, Horton said, “That’s a head coach’s decision. We want all of our good players on the field.”
Rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, has started the past two games in Sheard’s place. Although Mingo has three sacks in his four games, he has taken some lumps. For example, he lost containment Oct. 3 in a win over the Buffalo Bills, allowing running back C.J. Spiller to break loose for a 54-yard touchdown run off left tackle in the third quarter.
“I assume [Mingo] knows what the lesson is, what his responsibility to the rest of the team is,” Horton said. “He’s a young player, and we’re going to grow with him and get better. He’s new. He hasn’t played a lot. He’s going to be a dynamic player for us, but he’s also got that learning curve for us. Every game is a different opponent. Different schemes and mistakes happen in a game.”
As for Sheard, he had 15 tackles, including 1½ sacks, a pass defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the first three games before he was injured.
“He’s a dominant player,” starting left outside linebacker Paul Kruger said. “So he’s definitely an added force.”
In other words, Horton’s men would welcome Sheard’s help against Bush.
“[Bush’s] an explosive player,” Kruger said. “He has that ability to make big plays and really stretch the field. He’s got a lot of speed. So we’ve got to make sure that we keep an eye on him.”
Lions All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson practiced on a limited basis Thursday after sitting out Wednesday with the injured right knee the forced him to miss a 22-9 loss to the Green Bay Packers last Sunday. Lions coach Jim Schwartz said Johnson’s availability against the Browns probably won’t be determined until Sunday morning.
“Are they a different team without Calvin on the field? I think they are,” Horton said. “For me to say they won’t miss him is absurd, but [quarterback Matthew Stafford has been] doing such a wonderful job distributing the ball, I think they can really absorb one guy being out.
“Do I assume [Johnson is] going to play? He’s a competitor. He’s a fantastic player. I think if there’s any way he can play, he’ll play. Unfortunately, I’m not up there in Detroit. I don’t get to watch their practices.”
Browns backup defensive end Billy Winn (quadriceps) did not practice Thursday. Quarterback Brian Hoyer, who’s out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, watched the team’s morning walk-through session. He was using crutches.
On his radio show on the team’s flagship stations, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said Hoyer will undergo surgery next week.
Dirty or not?
Since Lions standout defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh entered the NFL in 2010, the league has fined him six times and suspended him once for illegal plays against opponents.
So is Suh a dirty player?
“I am not going to answer that,” center Alex Mack said.
On the other hand, right guard Shawn Lauvao insisted he is in favor of Suh’s nasty style.
“I like that,” Lauvao said. “I think that’s one thing that’s lacking in the NFL. There’s not too many guys who have some juice to themselves. It’s a good thing.”
Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner said the key to quarterback Brandon Weeden getting rid of the ball quicker is all about understanding the plays and the system.
“It’s not physical,” Turner said. “It has to do obviously with decision-making and giving him things where he has the option to get the ball out quick and emphasizing that.
“There’s certainly [an] emphasis in getting the ball out. We do need to get the ball out.”
Aside from the quarterback, Turner believes the rest of the offense is better now than the first two games of the season, when Weeden started and wide receiver Josh Gordon served a suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
“I went back and watched the first two weeks,” Turner said. “And obviously not having Josh was an issue.”
Buzz was generated on the airwaves of WKNR (850-AM) Thursday morning about free-agent quarterback Tim Tebow being in Cleveland. A league source said if that’s true, the trip is not related to the Browns. … Horton ended his news conference with a tribute to one of his favorite authors, Tom Clancy, who died Oct. 1. “I want to pass on my condolences to the world because he was a fantastic author, and I loved how he would weave a tale to get you to the end,” Horton said. “And I would always read the last page of the book first.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.