By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Offensive lineman Oniel Cousins has spent the vast majority of his five NFL seasons serving as a backup right tackle, but now he’s favored to start at right guard for the Browns when they host the Miami Dolphins in the regular-season opener Sept. 8.
“He has the edge right now,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said Tuesday before practice. “I’ve been pleased with how quickly he’s made the transition. It’s not been perfect by any means, and he’s still working and still needs to continue to work. But it’s been relatively smooth.”
Cousins realizes his game needs to be polished. He’ll get another trial run Thursday night when the Browns visit the Chicago Bears in the preseason finale.
Chudzinski said he’ll play at least some of his starters for a brief time against the Bears, but he will wait until Wednesday to reveal whether starting quarterback Brandon Weeden will be one of them. Chudzinski didn’t outline plans for any of the other starters, except revealing that wide receiver Josh Gordon will “play some.” Gordon will begin the regular season by serving a two-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy.
“Generally, the guys who are with the ones would get 10-12 reps,” Chudzinski said. “But there’s a number of situations still that need to play out in terms of specifics of who’s going to play and those types of things.”
The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Cousins is glad Chudzinski has expressed faith in him, and he’s expecting to play Thursday. He is determined to make the most of his tune-up against the Bears.
“It’s always a good thing if the head coach is pleased,” Cousins said. “I personally think I still got a lot of work to do. I’m just going to continue to get better as far as technique goes. Alignment, assignment, technique, those are the three main things I’m focusing on, and I’m just going to let it ride. I’m confident, but I still think I’ve got a lot of work to do.
“There are little things I need to tweak up as far as footwork goes. I’ve just got to be a little more precise. Obviously, when you’re playing inside, a guy is right on you. You want your footwork to be perfect or somewhat close to perfect, and then you just let it ride. So footwork and hands are the things I’m working on.”
Cousins played in six of the first-team offense’s eight possessions Saturday night during a 27-6 preseason loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Rookie Garrett Gilkey filled in for the other two series.
“I’m excited,” Cousins said. “I just want to make the most of the opportunity and do everything I can to help this team win some games.”
The Browns have been experimenting at right guard in the aftermath of Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston suffering high-ankle sprains that will keep them sidelined for the early stages of the regular season.
Last week, the Browns traded defensive end Brian Sanford to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for guard John Moffitt. But the Browns voided the trade because they had concerns about the health of Moffitt, who underwent knee surgery two years ago and elbow surgery last summer.
The new coaching staff did not use Cousins at right guard in a preseason game until Saturday. He has started five regular-season games during his career, including one at guard for the Baltimore Ravens.
Chudzinski said he’s more comfortable with the team’s situation at right guard than he was last week when the organization made a move for Moffitt.
“I feel better about the situation and Oniel — what he’s done and what he’s shown,” Chudzinski said. “We just have to keep working. I think we do have a couple different options, and that’s the thing you always want to have is some options. Oniel moving from tackle to guard was one of the things that we had discussed. As it came time, that was the thing that became the forefront that we needed to do. We weren’t sure how it would all work out, but it seems like it’s gone as well as we could’ve expected.”
Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas thinks Cousins can hold down the fort.
“I think it’s nice to have a guy like Oniel because he’s got NFL starts under his belt,” Thomas said. “Even though we lost two right guards, a lot of times when you go three deep most times, you are getting into a guy that has no experience. So having Oniel there is very helpful because he has NFL starts, playing time experience, he’s versatile in that he can play tackle or guard, and he’s a big, physical guy who can help us.”
Signs of progress
Chudzinski said the Browns do not plan on placing rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo on injured reserve and designating him to return after Week 8 of the regular season. Mingo, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, has not practiced or played since suffering a bruised lung Aug. 15 against the Detroit Lions.
But Mingo ran Tuesday, a team spokesman said. He worked out on a stationary bike during the portion of practice open to reporters.
“Actually, he’s doing better, and he continues to be monitored,” Chudzinski said.
Is the Sept. 8 season opener a realistic target date for Mingo’s return?
“We have no timetable,” Chudzinski said. “We just have to see how he progresses and how he heals. It’s really just an individual thing. It’s from individual to individual on how quickly they heal.”
Backup quarterback Jason Campbell sat out practice Tuesday with an unspecified illness, and wide receiver Davone Bess sat out to rest his knee, a team spokesman said. Both players practiced Monday. Bess sat out practice last week with tendinitis in his knee.
Starting tight end Jordan Cameron was held out of team drills Tuesday with a strained groin. A groin injury also forced Cameron to miss part of organized team activities in May.
“He’s got a slight groin [strain],” Chudzinski said. “I don’t anticipate any issues with it.”
Chudzinski said cornerback Chris Owens shouldn’t be sidelined much longer with the strained foot arch that has been bothering him for the past few weeks.
“I think he’s a day-to-day,” Chudzinski said. “I wouldn’t expect him to be very long at all. I think Chris has done it enough and played enough from an experience standpoint that I don’t have any concerns with him [missing some time in the preseason]. I know this morning he felt great. So we’ll get him back here in practice pretty quickly.”
Chudzinski said starting right defensive end Desmond Bryant is getting closer to returning to practice. He has missed time the past couple of weeks while dealing with back spasms.
“He’s progressing as well, and I don’t anticipate any issues with Desmond, either,” Chudzinski said.
In addition to Mingo, Owens and Bryant, kicker Brandon Bogotay (groin) and wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt (hamstring) worked out on the side with a trainer Tuesday during the period of practice open to reporters.
Wide receivers Greg Little and Josh Gordon appeared in Cleveland Municipal Court on Tuesday morning. Little pleaded not guilty to three traffic violations, and Gordon pleaded not guilty to two speeding violations.
Little was charged May 28 with parking illegally, driving a vehicle that was not registered and using dealer license plates that were not issued for the vehicle.
Gordon was charged Aug. 13 with driving 98 mph in a 60 mph zone and charged May 10 with driving 45 mph in a 25 mph zone.
Little has a pretrial hearing set for 9 a.m. Sept. 10, and Gordon has a minor misdemeanor trial scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 10.
Little is also scheduled to appear in Berea Municipal Court on Sept. 4 because he was ticketed for driving 81 mph in a 60 mph zone last week in Strongsville.
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.