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Browns notebook: Down to four receivers as David Nelson is cut from roster

By Marla Ridenour
Beacon Journal sports columnist

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BEREA: Browns wide receiver David Nelson had a feeling he didn’t do enough on Thursday night and his instincts were right.

Signed as a free agent in April despite tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Sept. 9, Nelson worried about his future after he caught just four of 10 passes thrown his way in the preseason finale at Chicago. He missed most of training camp and the first three exhibition games with a bone bruise in his surgically repaired knee.

The Browns also placed receiver Josh Gordon on the reserve/suspended list as he will miss the first two games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. That left them with just four receivers — Greg Little, Davone Bess, Josh Cooper and Travis Benjamin going into the Sept. 8 season opener at home against the Miami Dolphins. Benjamin has played in 14 NFL games, Cooper six. They combined for 26 receptions as rookies in 2012.

Asked the team’s thinking on letting Nelson go, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said, “The biggest thing was the other guys and what they were able to do. You saw a guy like Josh Cooper really improve and a number of guys there that were making plays and the production that they had.”

Nelson dropped one pass that would have gone for a first down, was plagued by cramps and had problems slipping on the Soldier Field grass. He may not be recovered from surgery, but proclaimed his knee “100 percent” in Chicago.

“He looked healthy and from all indications he said he’s healthy,” Chudzinski said. “Obviously he got a lot of reps the other night.”

Nelson, 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, played in 32 games with 17 starts for the Buffalo Bills from 2010 until he was injured in last season’s opener. In 2011, he caught 61 passes for 658 yards and five touchdowns. Nelson carried a $555,000 salary for 2013, according to the NFL Players Association’s web site. But according to Adam Caplan of SiriusXM NFL radio, only $25,000 was guaranteed.

Underdogs shine

More undrafted rookies than drafted rookies survived the day as the Browns kept five who were not selected and four who were. The five were linebackers Paul Hazel (Western Michigan) and Eric Martin (Nebraska), safety Josh Aubrey (Stephen F. Austin) and offensive linemen Caylin Hauptmann (Florida International) and Martin Wallace (Temple).

“I think it’s a tribute to the scouting department and [the players’] attitudes coming in and making a team, not just being on a team and being happy at the end,” Chudzinski said. “They’ve worked hard. We wanted to have the type of environment where guys could earn it and these guys showed that.”

Hazel and Martin, claimed on waivers from Jacksonville and New Orleans, respectively, may still have to sweat this week’s roster fluctuations, especially as the Browns kept seven defensive linemen and 10 linebackers.

“We liked their pass-rush ability,” Chudzinski said. “As outside ‘backers they have flexibility to play defensive end as well in some of the sub situations. Having the guys up front as a starting point and being a little bit heavy there, I’m not concerned. We’ll continue to monitor and we have some flexibility with different positions. It will be a fluid situation there, too.”

As of Saturday, the Browns had 14 players who entered the league undrafted.

Along with the aforementioned five are receivers Davone Bess and Cooper, quarterback Brian Hoyer, defensive lineman Desmond Bryant, offensive lineman Jarrod Shaw, linebacker Craig Robertson, safeties Johnson Bademosi and Tashaun Gipson and punter Spencer Lanning.

Success story

The player who may have come the farthest of the five undrafted players to make it could be safety Josh Aubrey, 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, even though he started 46 of his 47 games at Stephen F. Austin. He finished fourth on the team in preseason with 15 tackles (10 solos).

“Josh really came out of nowhere,” Chudzinski said. “If you think back to the spring and seeing him then and how much progress he’s made since the spring, he’s really come a long way and done a nice job and gotten to the point where we trust him. He’s gone into games in the preseason and shown very well.”

It’s Skrine

Chudzinski said as of Saturday, Buster Skrine had won the starting right cornerback job opposite Joe Haden.

“Right now, it would be Buster Skrine,” Chudzinski said. “Chris Owens has done a really good job this camp. We feel like we have two guys who can play and alternate. As much as people are in sub personnel right now, you need three anyhow. Both of those guys are going to be big parts of what we do.”

More tests for Mingo?

Chudzinski said an ESPN report that first-round pick Barkevious Mingo (bruised lung) would undergo a CT scan Monday was inaccurate, but that left some wondering if only the day was wrong.

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.


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