BEREA: Kicker Phil Dawson knows it won’t be easy to maintain his focus Sunday when the Browns host the Philadelphia Eagles in the regular-season opener.
For Dawson, it’ll be more than opening day. It’ll be another milestone, his 200th regular-season game played.
“There’s a whole set of emotions on opening day that you don’t necessarily get the rest of the year,” Dawson said. “It’s what I love and hate most about this job. The intensity of the butterflies and the nerves and all that, you can’t replicate anywhere else. For this one to have extra significance, being the 200th game, that’s going to be a challenge to keep everything in check.”
Dawson ranks fifth in franchise history with 199 games played. He’s on the verge of surpassing former offensive linemen Gene Hickerson (202) and Doug Dieken (203) to move into third place.
“To pass some of those benchmarks means a lot because I respect the men who have accomplished those,” Dawson said. “Then I’ll figure out what it means to me when it’s all said and done. Right now, I’m just coming to work, trying to get better and here we are at 200 games. It’s kind of surprising.
“There were 30 teams — I think that’s how many were in the league — in 1998 at the draft who didn’t think I’d make it to one game. So to be at 200 …”
Well, it’s a big deal.
“There’s kind of a thing in the NFL once you get to 100 games that you’re one of the guys who played a long time,” punter Reggie Hodges said. “Two hundred is double that. That’s incredible. He’s only missed eight games in his career. His durability, his consistency, it’s unmatched. He’s the best kicker in the league by far.”
Although Dawson is mesmerized by the accomplishment, he still can’t resist shaking his head when he thinks about what could have happened later this year. If he plays the entire season, he’ll finish with 215 games played, one shy of tying hall of fame offensive tackle and kicker Lou Groza, who played in 216.
In Dawson’s first game with the Browns in 1999, he was in uniform and ready to enter the action as a kicker. But he never left the sideline, because the team was shut out in a 43-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Punter Chris Gardocki handled kickoffs until Week 3.
Either way, Dawson’s teammates are in awe of him.
“He’s kind of been almost the face of the franchise because he’s been here so long and he’s done such a great job,” Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Thomas said. “He’s extremely consistent making field goals and putting points on the board, and he’s been like that for a long time. He’s been so clutch for this franchise.”
Ready for game day
Rookie running back Trent Richardson and cornerback Joe Haden continued to practice Friday and are expected to play Sunday. Richardson underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Aug. 9 to have a piece of loose cartilage removed. Haden is appealing a suspension for a reported failed drug test.
Richardson returned to practice Monday and made it through the week without any setbacks.
“Big relief,” said Richardson, the third overall pick in this year’s draft. “It’s [one] thing watching it, but when you actually start doing it, that’s when you really find out.
“Just to get more confidence in myself, it’s just a blessing. I’m happy I’ve made it this far with all the trouble I’ve been going through with my knee. I’m happy right now, and I just can’t wait to see what happens Sunday.”
Richardson said he’s still awaiting coach Pat Shurmur’s final decision about whether he’ll play this weekend.
“I know Coach knows best,” said Richardson, who’s listed as questionable on the injury report. “In my head … I’m ready to go.”
Haden had an appeal hearing and is waiting for a decision from the league regarding his suspension, President Mike Holmgren said earlier this week in a radio interview. The league, though, has yet to make an announcement, meaning Haden should be available for Week 1.
“Yeah, to me it’s a normal week,” Haden said. … “Until I hear anything, I’m gonna just keep going like I planned.
“It’d be nice [to play]. When I’m on the football field, [I] just get away from everything else.”
Haden said he will mirror Eagles standout wide receiver DeSean Jackson in coverage, and he’s eager to face his childhood idol, quarterback Michael Vick. Haden said he met Vick at the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, and the two have kept in touch. As a high school quarterback, Haden grew up admiring Vick.
“I had the jersey, the shoes, everything,” Haden said. “I was a legit fan. … I didn’t want to be like a groupie, but I kind of told him a little bit.”
The Eagles have one of the best defensive lines in the league, and it will attempt to manhandle the Browns in the trenches like it did two weeks ago in the third preseason game.
Shurmur is confident the offensive line will rebound.
“They’re like the engine of the car,” he said. “It sounds cliché. You don’t talk about it unless the car doesn’t start. We all know that the offensive line is very important. We feel like that unit has worked well together. We anticipate they’ll play well.”
The Eagles sacked rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden three times and forced him to fumble twice in the first quarter alone.
Starting left defensive end Jason Babin, who led the Eagles with 18 sacks last season, didn’t play in the preseason as he dealt with an injured calf, but he’s expected to be ready for Sunday. Thomas said Babin switches sides sometimes, so he and rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz are bracing for him.
“He’s obviously a really good player,” Schwartz said. “You can tell by the sack totals. But you can also tell on film, he’s not just a pass-rush guy. He’s pretty good in the run game as well. He’s able to redirect well. He’s got good quickness. He’s got good power to him, but he’s also able to make some second and third moves to get the job done.”
Browns rookie defensive tackle Billy Winn is expected to start Sunday. … Offensive tackle Oniel Cousins (ankle) is doubtful. … Offensive lineman John Greco (calf) returned to practice Friday and is questionable along with tight ends Jordan Cameron (groin) and Benjamin Watson (thigh), quarterback Thaddeus Lewis (right thumb) and running back Chris Ogbonnaya (ankle). … Free safety Eric Hagg (illness), cornerback Dimitri Patterson (knee) and safeties Ray Ventrone (hamstring) and Usama Young (thigh) are probable.
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 at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.