BEREA: Browns starting strong safety T.J. Ward returned to practice Thursday after undergoing surgery on his right thumb this past weekend.
Ward wore a black cast as he participated in individual and team drills, a sign he will likely play Sunday when the Browns (0-4) visit the New York Giants (2-2). Ward was limited in practice, according to the team’s injury report. He broke his thumb Thursday in the Browns’ 23-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
“Hopefully T.J. will be OK,” defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. “He’s playing really well. I think he understands our scheme better. He really wants to do it right. He’s working at it hard. He’s done a nice job.”
Ward, who has a team-high 27 tackles this season, did not address the media Thursday. A team spokesman said Ward couldn’t conduct an interview because he had to attend a team meeting and have his hand recasted.
Special teamer and safety Ray Ventrone had a similar surgery after he broke his left hand Sept. 9 in the regular-season opener. Ventrone missed one game but has played the past two weeks while wearing a cast. Coach Pat Shurmur said early this week he believes Ward would be able to face the Giants because Ventrone has played through his injury.
If Ward plays, he would assume his usual role as the starting strong safety, and Usama Young would continue to start at free safety. If Ward doesn’t play, Jauron said Young, Ventrone and Eric Hagg could be counted on to fill the void.
Nevertheless, Ward’s return suggests a quick comeback can be achieved.
Shurmur implied Wednesday that he would not encourage his players to watch NFL Network’s documentary about the Browns’ final season in Cleveland before Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore. Cleveland ’95: A football life aired Wednesday night.
“We’re going to have to catch up on that after the season,” Shurmur said. “I think this time of year, you don’t have much time to read books and watch movies.”
But Shurmur made it clear Thursday he believes the history lesson outlined in the film is important for his players to know.
“A lot of that information I covered with the team prior to playing the Ravens a week ago,” Shurmur said. “I don’t talk about what I tell the players behind the scenes, but that’s when the information that was talked about in last night’s documentary was relevant. A little bit of a history lesson when Art Modell passed away — there was a little bit of it. You put that information in the player’s head in weeks that it’s relevant. That’s kind of how we do it.”
Shurmur was ripped on Cleveland sports talk radio for downplaying the importance of watching the documentary.
“On the radio? Yeah, I think [the criticism is] pretty constant,” Shurmur said. “Trust me, that doesn’t bother me.
“I was told about all [the history] before I got here. I’ve lived it. I eat in Cleveland restaurants. I don’t know what to tell you other than the fact that I get it. I think it’s important that as the head coach of this team, you keep the team focused, and keep their eye on the ball moving forward.”
Rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson, who expects to make his NFL regular-season debut Sunday after missing the first four games with a ribs/oblique injury, will probably work his way into the base defense as opposed to the nickel package, Jauron said. … Jauron expects cornerback Joe Haden to come back strong when he returns from his four-game suspension Monday. “I’m going to assume, knowing Joe, that he’s going to come back in really good shape,” Jauron said. “I assume he’s been training the whole time.” … Undrafted rookie safety Tashaun Gipson (knee) and tight end Alex Smith (concussion) did not practice.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. 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.