By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: The Browns have switched starting quarterbacks five times this season, but offensive coordinator Norv Turner revealed Thursday that a carousel at another position has actually given him more headaches.
“People talk about the quarterback thing,” Turner said. “But the biggest challenge has been trying to coordinate the running game with the backs we have with the different things we’ve had to handle.”
Edwin Baker is the newest running back in the mix with Chris Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whittaker. The Browns signed Baker off the Houston Texans’ practice squad Tuesday because starter Willis McGahee suffered a concussion Sunday in the fourth quarter of a 27-26 loss to the New England Patriots.
When Turner was the coach of the San Diego Chargers last year, they drafted Baker in the seventh round (No. 250 overall) out of Michigan State University. He has yet to appear in a regular-season NFL game, but that’s expected to change Sunday, when the Browns (4-9) host the Chicago Bears (7-6).
“He’s been in the system,” Turner said. “He’s familiar with it. So I’m sure he’ll get an opportunity to play a little bit.”
Baker said his re-introduction to Turner’s playbook has done well.
“If you do not ride a bike for a long time, you still know you know how to ride a bike, but you still got to get back on there and still start pedaling,” Baker said. “So that is all it was.”
The Browns have the NFL’s 28th-ranked rushing attack (84.3 yards per game), but if there is one team they should be able to run on, it’s the Bears, whose rushing defense is last in the league (157 yards per game). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Bears tied an NFL record Monday night in their win over the Dallas Cowboys by allowing a 100-yard rusher in the six consecutive games.
“It’s an opportunity for us to look at some things and hopefully prepare to run the football, but you want to stay balanced,” Ogbonnaya said. “You want to be able to do those things correctly.”
The 5-foot-8, 210-pound Baker spent the first 15 weeks of his rookie season on the Chargers’ practice squad before being promoted to the 53-man roster and remaining inactive during the final two games. This year, he spent the first 11 weeks of the season on the Denver Broncos’ practice squad and the past three on the Texans’ practice squad.
“He’s got good feet,” Turner said. “He’s got good quickness. He was a very productive player in college. He’s not a big man. But he was a powerful runner in college, and a very productive runner. We kept him on the practice squad [in San Diego] because we thought he might become a guy that could play in the league.”
Baker is eager for his debut.
“I was always waiting for my moment, waiting for my chance to show what I can do and prove that I can play in this league,” he said. “I have been biding my time.”
Baker is behind Ogbonnaya and Whittaker in the pecking order, but there is an opportunity for him to ascend the depth chart. Ogbonnaya is the only running back on the team with a good average this season — 42 carries for 224 yards (5.3 average). Whittaker has 28 carries for 79 yards (2.8 average). McGahee has 138 carries for 377 yards (2.7 average).
“[I’m] explosive, hard to bring down, and I got breakaway speed,” Baker said. “So give me a crease and I am planning to take it.”
Baker’s only preseason carries this year came against the Bears. He had five carries for 36 yards (7.2 average). That performance and the time he spent practicing against the Texans’ defense, which is ranked third overall in the NFL, has given him confidence that he’s ready.
“I am motivating myself every day and telling myself that I know I can play in this league,” Baker said. “I know what I can do, and I know what I am capable of.”
Pro Bowl love
Of all the Browns players, Ogbonnaya is the highest rated at his position in Pro Bowl fan voting. Because he has played fullback and running back this season, he’s listed as a fullback, and he’s ranked second with 222,495 votes.
“It’s surprising. It’s flattering at the same time,” Ogbonnaya said. “I look at how I do things, and for me, it’s about respect. That’s what I aim for. It’s flattering that the fans at least have noticed that.”
Fans can vote on NFL.com until 6 p.m. Dec. 26. Players and coaches will cast their votes Dec. 23-26. Each group’s vote counts one-third toward determining who’ll make the Pro Bowl. The selected players will be announced Dec. 27, and the all-star game will be played Jan. 26 in Honolulu.
Man of the Year
The Browns named outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard their 2013 Walter Payton Man of the Year, the team announced Thursday. Every year, the award is presented to a member of each of the 32 NFL teams, highlighting players’ community service and playing excellence.
Of the winners from each team, three will become finalists for the 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, which be presented Feb. 1. Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas was a finalist last year.
Quarterback Brandon Weeden fully participated in practice Thursday for the first time since he suffered a concussion Dec. 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. That’s a sign Weeden will serve as starter Jason Campbell’s primary backup Sunday.
McGahee and starting left guard John Greco (sprained medial collateral ligament in right knee) were the only players on the active roster who didn’t practice Thursday.
Greco said he hopes to be back in action next week, meaning he’ll sit out Sunday and Jason Pinkston will start in his place against the Bears. Greco suffered the injury during the first quarter against the Patriots and played until he left for good in the second quarter.
Backup offensive tackle Reid Fragel (illness) returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday.
Penalties in review
Speaking for the first time since the Browns lost Sunday, defensive coordinator Ray Horton didn’t criticize officials for their controversial pass-interference call on cornerback Leon McFadden or their questionable unnecessary-roughness call on safety Jordan Poyer that aided the Patriots’ dramatic comeback win in the final minute.
“There’s a subjective penalty, vision, play, you live with those,” Horton said. “I’m sure they tried to do the best job that they can. The game is a fast game. It’s hard. They don’t get the chance to slow it down.”
Horton, though, acknowledged how much those penalties helped Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots’ offense.
“There were 44 yards in penalties on two plays within, I think, 30 seconds,” Horton said. “That’s a lot of yardage in penalties for a team that has a pretty good quarterback.”
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.