By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: The Browns have been decimated by injuries at running back, but Brandon Jackson is determined to help them weather the storm.
Dion Lewis will undergo surgery on a fractured left fibula he suffered Thursday night in an exhibition win over the Detroit Lions, and he could be done for the season. Lewis was one of the most pleasant surprises of training camp.
“It’s sad that something like that happened to him,” Jackson said Saturday after practice. “I’ve been in his shoes before where I had to be out. It’s tough. But looking forward it’s a great opportunity for me to come in and continue to get better every practice, every rep and continue to show the coaches that I can catch, I can run, I can block and that I can help the team win.”
Montario Hardesty also underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday, and that procedure usually requires at least a month of recovery time. Hardesty has had torn anterior cruciate ligaments repaired in both knees.
“For him to be hurt most of his career, that’s tough,” Jackson said. “I really can’t empathize with him, because I’ve never really been hurt the way he’s been hurt. But I’m praying for him. I hope he has a speedy recovery and he can get back on the field. But once again, it’s another opportunity for me to step up.”
Heading into camp, Hardesty was listed as starter Trent Richardson’s primary backup and Lewis was third on the depth chart. With both of them out, Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya will have many more opportunities. Ogbonnaya, though, is also being used as the team’s No. 1 fullback, so the Browns are counting on Jackson to step up.
He insists he’s ready.
“Physically, I feel great, mentally I feel good,” Jackson said. “There’s a lot of things that’s happening in my personal life that’s making me come out here and play football, and play harder and just go hard every rep, and I’m pleased with what I’m doing now. I can get better in a lot of situations and a lot of things that I’m doing, but I’m pleased for now. I’ll just keep it personal. But there are a lot of things that are going on that are just continuing to motivate me to be a better father, a better husband and just a better athlete overall. I’m just focusing on football for now, and it’s doing good.”
The Browns signed Jackson in 2011, but he missed the entire season after suffering torn ligaments in his big toe during the preseason. Last season, he became the forgotten man on the roster, playing in two games.
Frustrated with the previous coaching staff, Jackson got another chance in Cleveland when the new regime re-signed him in May. With coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner now leading the offense, Jackson is excited about a fresh start.
“I pray a lot and I asked God to give me the opportunity to be somewhere and just have a chance to play football,” said Jackson, who won a Super Bowl as a member of the Green Bay Packers during the 2010 season. “He placed me back here and I was very grateful, very happy with Chud and Norv’s offensive system. It’s just a great opportunity for me to get back on the field and play football.”
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton said he called a play against the Lions that was designed by nose tackle Phil Taylor.
“I like players to be smart, to be invested, to have ownership and I always say, ‘if you can come up with something that will work and that’s solid, schematically sound, I’ll run it,’ ” Horton said. “And I’ve already received four plays from players [asking], ‘Can you run this?’ I look at it, and all four are valuable, all four are in our defense, and I called one in the game [Thursday] night, and it worked.
“So I think the players really feel like, ‘This is our team.’ And I want it to be their team. It’s not my team. I hope it’s not Chud’s. I hope it’s the Cleveland Browns’ team where the players are invested, where they’re the ones that make big plays. I think if you give them ownership, they respond to you.”
Free safety is still a position of concern in Horton’s mind. Second-year players Tashaun Gipson and Johnson Bademosi, a converted cornerback, are first and second on the depth chart, respectively.
“On paper, they look good, but we’ve got a long way to go,” Horton said. … “I want us to keep building and we haven’t got there yet.”
Horton praised safety Josh Aubrey, who seems to be the undrafted rookie most likely to make the team.
“We always preach somebody will make our team on special teams and be a surprise,” Horton said. “He’s doing all the little things right.”
Horton described rookie cornerback Leon McFadden, a third-round pick, as a “question mark” because a groin injury has kept him out of the first two preseason games.
“He hasn’t taken any NFL snaps yet. … So he gets an incomplete in my book because I haven’t seen him in live action. But I like his skill set.”
Chris Owens and Buster Skrine are locked in a battle for the starting cornerback job opposite Joe Haden. Horton said Owens and Skrine are making one anther better, and he called them “clones of each other.”
Horton called Craig Robertson a “classic” inside weakside linebacker. “He’s exactly what I want,” Horton said.
Horton also praised defensive end Ahtyba Rubin. “If you watch the tape, he dominated in the game [against the Lions].”
Owens sat out practice Saturday with an unspecified illness, and defensive end Desmond Bryant was sidelined with back trouble.
Cornerback Trevin Wade injured his right shoulder after he dived in front of wide receiver Josh Cooper and intercepted a pass from quarterback Jason Campbell during team drills. Wade immediately left the field and walked off with a trainer 15 minutes later.
Wide receivers Naaman Roosevelt (hamstring), Jordan Norwood (hamstring) and David Nelson (knee), punter T.J. Conley (groin), kicker Brandon Bogotay (groin) and Bryant did not practice, but they worked out on the side with trainers.
Outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (bruised lung) and offensive linemen Ryan Miller (concussion), Jason Pinkston (high ankle sprain), Shawn Lauvao (arthroscopic ankle surgery), Chris Faulk (arthroscopic knee surgery) and tight end Gary Barnidge (sprained shoulder) also sat out.
Mingo and Barnidge were on the field watching practice. Miller has been out since he suffered a concussion July 27, but he has been coming to the team’s facility regularly, a Browns spokesman said.
Billy Winn practiced at right defensive end with Bryant sidelined. … Shayne Graham made field goals of 41 and 23 yards to end two-minute drills orchestrated by quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell. … Third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer and wide receiver Josh Cooper connected for a touchdown of about 50 yards. … A pass from second-string quarterback Campbell went off Cooper’s hands, and rookie safety Jamoris Slaughter intercepted it. … Undrafted rookie cornerback Akeem Auguste intercepted a pass from Campbell.
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.