By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Several Browns players won’t actually dress for the team’s “dress rehearsal” preseason game on the road Saturday night against the Indianapolis Colts.
After practice Thursday, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski ruled out starting defensive end Desmond Bryant (back spasms) and kicker Brandon Bogotay (strained groin) for the third preseason game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Chudzinski said cornerback Chris Owens (foot), wide receiver Davone Bess (knee) and starting outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard (knee) are questionable for Saturday. None of them practiced Thursday, and it’s unlikely that any of them will face the Colts.
“They would be able to play in a regular-season game,” Chudzinski said. “They would be fine in a regular-season game. … We’ll be smart with them and wanted to make sure we were smart with them today.”
Billy Winn will start in place of Bryant at right defensive end. Most of the starters will play the entire first half and one series in the third quarter, Chudzinski said.
Bryant said he doesn’t believe he’ll need surgery. He has been dealing with back trouble for the past few weeks.
Does Bryant think he’ll be ready for the regular-season opener Sept. 8 against the Miami Dolphins?
“I think that’s realistic, but I can’t say one way or another,” said Bryant, who signed a five-year, $34 million deal with the Browns in March. “I’m going to get as much treatment as possible, and as soon as I’m ready to go, I’ll be out there.
“The treatments I’m getting now are different than what I was doing at the beginning of training camp. I think that they’re really helping me, and I’ll be back ready to go soon.”
Chudzinski said Bryant “will be ready for the first [regular-season] game. No concerns with that.”
Shayne Graham will handle all of the kicking duties with Bogotay out. An undrafted rookie, Bogotay suffered a strained groin in the first half Aug. 15 against the Detroit Lions. His absence certainly won’t help his chances of beating Graham for the job.
“I guess it’s worse than I thought,” Bogotay said of his injury. “I thought I’d be back the next day. There was no severe pop. I didn’t feel anything. It just felt really tight. It just hasn’t loosened up yet. I’m just not back to 100 percent yet.
“For a kicker, it’s an important area to take care of, and if I went out there and tore it, then that’s a long, long [recovery] time. So I’m just going out there and trying to get back as soon as possible.”
Rookie cornerback Leon McFadden will make his preseason debut after sitting out the first two exhibition games with a strained groin. If Owens sits out, McFadden will receive playing time with the first-team defense when it employs its nickel package, Chudzinski said. Buster Skrine would start opposite Joe Haden.
“I’m really looking forward to it, especially this being a game I’m actually going to play in, my first NFL game,” said McFadden, a third-round pick in this year’s draft. “I’m really excited for it. I’ve been waiting to lace up the cleats and play. Words can’t explain how excited I am.”
Owens suffered a strained foot Aug. 7 and has been in and out of the action ever since. Owens said he won’t need surgery, and he’s confident he’ll be able to play through the injury when the regular season arrives.
“I’ll be ready to go Week 1 for sure,” said Owens, who signed a one-year deal with the Browns in March. “If I had no foot, I’d be ready to go Week 1.”
Wide receivers Travis Benjamin and Josh Cooper will receive more playing time if Bess doesn’t face the Colts, Chudzinski said.
“It’s a big opportunity for me,” Cooper said. “There’s been a big receiver competition all camp. So it’s a chance for me to go out there and make plays and show I can do it.”
Bess has been dealing with tendinitis in his knee, Chudzinski said.
“It’s not really a knee issue,” Bess said. “Basically, it’s just overall rest. Like he said, if it was a regular-season game, I’d definitely be able to go. But it’s just an opportunity for me to rest up and stay on top of things from a physical standpoint.”
Quentin Groves will start at right outside linebacker if Sheard rests Saturday, Chudzinski said.
“You never want your brother to go down, but at the same time, with that happening, it’s just the next man up,” Groves said. “That’s the philosophy that we have as players. You always have to prepare yourself as you would start.”
Sheard has sat out the past two practices after getting hurt this week, but he insisted he’s not worried he’ll be forced to miss the regular-season opener.
“It’s football, you get nicked up,” Sheard said. “It’s nothing serious, nothing major at all, just a little nick, man. Just out there banging with those big guys, man, you get nicked up in the trenches.”
Oniel Cousins will start at right guard against the Colts, but rookie Garrett Gilkey will also receive some playing time with the first-team offense in that spot, Chudzinski said.
Cousins and Gilkey are competing for the job because Shawn Lauvao (high ankle sprain and arthroscopic ankle surgery) and Jason Pinkston (high ankle sprain) will be sidelined for the early stages of the regular season.
“I just wanted an opportunity,” Cousins said. “I’m going to do everything I can. I’m going to prepare myself mentally and physically to go out there and block for this team and do everything in my power to win.”
The Browns waived punter T.J. Conley on Thursday, the team announced.
With Conley gone, Spencer Lanning is the only punter left on the roster. Through two preseason games, Lanning has punted eight times for gross and net averages of 45.8 and 39 yards. He has had three punts downed inside the 20-yard line and two touchbacks.
Conley played in the preseason opener Aug. 8 against the St. Louis Rams, but he sat out the second exhibition game Aug. 15 against the Lions with a strained groin. He returned to practice Tuesday.
In his lone preseason appearance with the Browns, Conley punted twice for a total of 80 yards. One punt was downed inside the 20-yard line.
Outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (bruised lung), tight end Gary Barnidge (sprained AC joined in shoulder) and wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt (hamstring) remained sidelined Thursday during practice and won’t play Saturday. All of them worked out on the side with trainers. Mingo rode a stationary bike.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Jordan Norwood (hamstring) returned to practice Thursday after sitting out the rest of the week.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.