By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
Browns rookie cornerback Leon McFadden finally got his first taste of live NFL action, and the experience left him hungry to improve.
McFadden sat out the first two preseason games with a strained groin, but he worked his way back in time to make his debut Saturday night against quarterback Andrew Luck, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and the rest of the Indianapolis Colts’ starting offense.
Browns cornerback Chris Owens was sidelined with a strained foot arch, so McFadden received ample playing time with fellow corners Joe Haden and Buster Skrine in the first-team defense’s nickel package.
“I felt comfortable,” McFadden said after the Browns’ 27-6 loss to the Colts. “There were some errors I had out there, but I’m just going to study the film, learn off it and try to correct my mistakes.”
A third-round pick from San Diego State University, McFadden was picked on early and often by Luck. He surrendered at least four completions, but he also broke up a pass intended for Wayne, who finished with seven catches for 79 yards.
“Getting out there for the first time against a good group and on the road, it was good experience for him,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said Sunday during a conference call. “He definitely had some things that he can improve on and work on. I think that as the game went on, I think he got more comfortable playing, and it was good for him to get a good number of reps.”
McFadden’s teammates thought he handled the pressure well.
“You never know what a guy is going through his rookie year,” inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “It’s his first game, and you’ve got to grow up quick in this league. No matter who you face, you have to be able to rise to the challenge. He’s going to get his shot, and I thought he played well. He had some [plays] there. That’s the league. You have to be able to take the good with the bad.”
At least McFadden has a better idea about what to expect.
“I got my feet wet,” said McFadden, who finished with four tackles. “I haven’t played since last year. I think I could have played a little better game, but it’s my first game back, and I feel like I played a pretty solid game.
“I take it as a growing moment, and I got more comfortable with the game speed, which is different from the collegiate level. And it’s something I adjusted to.”
Leaders in clubhouse
Chudzinski said kicker Shayne Graham and punter Spencer Lanning are leading the races to secure jobs at their respective positions, but he wouldn’t commit to them just yet. Specialists throughout the league are released this time of year, and it wouldn’t be shocking if the Browns went shopping.
Graham made field goals of 50 and 44 yards against the Colts while undrafted rookie kicker Brandon Bogotay sat out with a strained groin.
Lanning, the only punter on the roster after T.J. Conley was waived last week, got off to a rough start against the Colts with punts of 31 and 29 yards. He then punted for 65, 50, 60, 56 and 36 yards. Two of his seven punts were downed inside the Colts’ 20-yard line and none went for a touchback.
“Those guys would be the leading candidates in those areas,” Chudzinski said. “I was pleased with how Spencer bounced back after those first two [punts]. And Shayne, especially hitting that 50-yarder, that was a really good hit, and it was good to see him be able to do that.”
Veteran backup tackle Oniel Cousins started at right guard against the Colts and played six of the first-team offense’s eight series with rookie Garrett Gilkey filling in during the other two. The Browns are trying to find someone to hold down the fort at right guard with Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston set to miss the early part of the regular season while recovering from high ankle sprains — plus a surgery in Lauvao’s case.
“I thought [Cousins] did a good job,” Chudzinski said. “He gives us a physical presence. He’s one of our more physical guys. He played hard and assignment-wise, he was pretty solid. There were some technique things that we need to continue to work on.
“Garrett played and got a significant amount of snaps as well, some with the ones and then some with the twos. I feel like Garrett’s getting better every week, and he just needs to continue to make progress.”
All NFL teams must trim their rosters to 75 players before 4 p.m. Tuesday and to 53 players before 6 p.m. Saturday. The Browns have 88 players.