BEREA: Cornerback Sheldon Brown’s streak apparently will survive another week, and that’s good news for the Browns because they can’t afford for it to die.
Not now, not with Joe Haden’s four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Haden failed a drug test in the offseason because he used Adderall, ESPN Cleveland reported Aug. 8.
“I’m sure you guys have been following football for a while, and other teams have lost important players,” Brown, who’s in his 11th professional season, said Wednesday after practice. “But the game don’t stop. It goes on, so that’s really what’s gonna happen.”
But the absence of Haden, the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft and the team’s top cornerback, is significant. The Browns face the daunting task of trying to cover Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green on the road Sunday without him.
“That’s a big loss for Cleveland, but they’ve got a lot of veteran guys that play a lot of football,” Green said during a conference call. “Joe’s a big part of the defense, but it’s the NFL. Whoever is given an opportunity, they always can step up.”
Brown suffered a stinger while making a tackle during the first quarter Sunday in the Browns’ 17-16 season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The injury affects his neck and left shoulder, but he fully participated in practice Wednesday, a sign that his streak of consecutive regular-season games will extend to 162. Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber is the only defensive back in the NFL with a longer active streak.
“I don’t really care about the streak,” Brown said. “The only thing I care about is wins and losses. I could care less about the streak. I didn’t even know the streak existed until I got here.”
Dimitri Patterson, the Browns’ top nickel cornerback, will start opposite Brown. In nickel packages, Buster Skrine will enter the game on the outside while Patterson covers the slot receiver.
“We’re going to miss Joe for a month and the next guys in there will do a good job,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “I’m very confident that the players we have on this team will go in and challenge and play extremely well. That’s just the way it goes, and we’re all aware of the rules, so we move forward.”
Patterson isn’t fazed by his new role. He started nine regular-season games and one playoff game for the Eagles in 2010 before signing with the Browns last year.
“Guys are going to get hurt, guys are going to be out, but we’re professionals,” Patterson said. “Guys gotta come in, step in and fill that role. That’s why they’re in the NFL, not to look. People don’t want to be in the NFL just to watch. Guys want to play. You never know who can play if someone doesn’t go down. So here we have another opportunity to see who can play.”
Brown is confident in Patterson and Skrine.
“Dimitri has played in probably more playoff games than anybody here in other places,” Brown said. “So he don’t have to step up and do nothing, just be himself and go out and play the way he plays. I think Buster is an awesome player. I think he has a really bright future, and I think in 11 years, you’ll be standing here talking to Buster like you’re talking to me.”
Still, losing Haden hurts.
“Joe’s a hard guy to replace,” linebacker Scott Fujita said. “I think he’s one of the top five or six cover corners in the league now. He’s so competitive. He challenges every single throw. It’s going to be tough on him and tough on us.”
Back to work
Fujita practiced Wednesday for the first time since a three-member appeals panel on Friday overturned a three-game suspension over allegations in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty case.
Fujita, who is coming back from an injured left knee, was inactive Sunday. His suspension was not lifted in time for him to practice last week and convince the coaching staff that he was healthy enough to play in the opener.
“My leg is feeling fine for a few weeks now,” said Fujita, who fully participated in practice Wednesday. “If that decision came six or seven hours sooner, I could have gotten on the field and shown that everything was fine. Then it’s a different story.”
Shurmur would not commit about reinserting Fujita in the starting lineup on the strong side. That might change, though, because Fujita made an impact right away.
“We felt his presence today,” strong safety T.J. Ward said. “He was out there making a lot of noise, running around like he was a rookie sometimes, making jokes. I call him the team lawyer because he’s always in court. It’s great to have him back.”
Although the suspensions of Fujita and the other three players punished in the bounty scandal were lifted, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell may reissue penalties. Fujita and the other players are expected to meet with Goodell Tuesday to discuss the case, NFL Network reported. Fujita has repeatedly denied the league’s accusation that he paid his former Saints teammates for intentionally injuring opponents.
Focusing on football
Jimmy Haslam III is not yet the official owner of the Browns, but he has already shown he’s all in with the organization.
Haslam will step down as chief executive of his family’s truck-stop empire, Pilot Flying J, and assume the role of chairman, the company announced Tuesday. John Compton, president of PepsiCo, will replace Haslam as chief executive.
Haslam struck a deal Aug. 2 to buy the Browns from Randy Lerner for about $1 billion. The purchase is expected to be approved by NFL owners Oct. 16. Haslam has been chief executive of Pilot since 1994.
Offensive tackle Joe Thomas (knee) was among those limited at practice. … Defensive end Frostee Rucker, who spent the past six seasons with the Bengals, will be the Browns’ game captain Sunday. … Backup offensive tackle Oniel Cousins (ankle) returned to practice. … Safety Ray Ventrone (hand) and rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson (ribs/oblique) sat out.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.