By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: The Browns needed support at guard after the position was decimated by injuries, and the organization got it Monday when it traded defensive end Brian Sanford to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for John Moffitt.
The 6-foot-4, 319-pound Moffitt started six games last season, four at right guard and two at left guard. A third-round draft pick in 2011, he started the first nine games of his rookie season before suffering torn ligaments in his left knee that required surgery. He also had elbow surgery last year during training camp.
Moffitt, 26, is expected to hold down the fort at right guard while Jason Pinkston (high-ankle sprain) and Shawn Lauvao (arthroscopic ankle surgery) sit out the early stages of the regular season. Moffitt had been battling J.R. Sweezy this summer for the Seahawks’ starting right guard job.
“We continue to look each day of the year for any opportunity to improve our roster,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said in a news release. “We’re committed to building a team that can consistently compete in this league.”
With Pinkston and Lauvao suffering injuries this month, rookie Garrett Gilkey, a seventh-round draft pick from Division II Chadron State College, and veteran backup tackle Oniel Cousins ascended to the top of the depth chart at right guard. Moffitt, though, is now in the driver’s seat at the position.
“John’s a tough and versatile lineman who will be in the mix for us up front,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said in the release.
The Browns certainly hope Moffitt’s history of off-field issues won’t be a problem. While on injured reserve in 2011 he served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. Moffitt blamed Adderall, telling the Seattle Times in 2012 that he had an old prescription for the drug used to treat hyperactivity and didn’t realize he needed to clear it with the league.
Last year, mall security accused Moffitt of urinating in public in January and June at a shopping district in suburban Seattle. In August, he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of criminal trespass when mall security found him on the premises from which he had been banned. This summer, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct in Bellevue District Court, paid a fine of $1,407 and received a suspended sentence of 24 months in jail.
Moffitt, a native of West Haven, Conn., started 42 of his 45 career games at the University of Wisconsin as a guard and center. He was a redshirt freshman during Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas’ senior year in Madison.
Sanford, 25, had been with the Browns since 2010, alternating between their practice squad and active roster. He appeared in five games in 2011 and one game last season.
The Browns made another roster move Monday. They terminated the contract of fullback Brock Bolen, who signed with the team in July. Bolen missed most of training camp with an injured calf.
The Browns now have 89 players on their roster, meaning they have one vacant spot.
Banner said running back Dion Lewis underwent surgery Monday on his fractured left fibula and rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo will have more tests conducted on his bruised lung.
Lewis will miss at least half of the season and possibly the entire year. He suffered the injury Thursday night with 7:52 left in the third quarter of the Browns’ preseason win over the Detroit Lions when he caught a pass from quarterback Jason Campbell for 6 yards and was tackled by linebackers Travis Lewis and Ashlee Palmer.
The Browns could place Lewis on season-ending injured reserve, or if they believe he might be able to return this year, they could put him on IR and designate him to return after Week 8 of the regular season. Banner said it’s still unknown whether Lewis could come back this season.
“We won’t have any idea until after the surgery,” Banner said Monday afternoon, speaking to reporters after giving them a tour of the team’s headquarters that recently underwent a $5 million renovation. “Even then, we may or may not have any more clarity than we do right now. It just may be a matter of seeing how it heals.”
Banner also said a timetable has not been solidified for the return of Mingo, who suffered a bruised lung in the first quarter against the Lions and spent two nights in the hospital.
“No, we really don’t [know how long he’ll be out],” Banner said. “I think he’s going to go through some tests soon. [The timetable is] still fairly open-ended. Hopefully we’ll get more information soon and have a better idea.”
Mingo is expected to be out for at least a week or two, a league source told the Beacon Journal, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation. He’ll sit out the Browns’ “dress rehearsal” preseason game Saturday at the Indianapolis Colts and probably the exhibition finale Aug. 29 against the Chicago Bears.
Banner made it clear the Browns won’t push Mingo, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, to return until he’s fully recovered.
“I think you’ve got to make sure he’s fully healthy before you put him back out there and then he should be at no greater risk than anybody else, at least as I understand it,” Banner said. “But you’ve got to make sure. With any injury if you put him out when they’re only 75 percent healed, you’re at greater risk of something happening. So we’ve got to make sure he’s fully good to go.”
Hours after being released from the hospital Saturday, Mingo spoke to reporters, insisted he felt fine and said he didn’t suffer any broken ribs even though he experienced shortness of breath and spit up blood on the sideline Thursday night. He also said he thinks he was hurt on the opening kickoff, but he’s not 100 percent sure because he didn’t absorb a big hit that he could specifically identify as the cause of his bruised lung.
“Anytime a player gets hurt, especially one where it’s sort of ambiguous — some of these injuries are, ‘I did this, OK, that’s two weeks. You did this, that’s eight weeks’— obviously the range of this being from minor to quite serious is larger than most injuries,” Banner said. “But you know we’ve got top quality medical people, and they were fairly quickly able to assure us and get him in a place where we were able to determine that he was in good shape. Mostly it was initial, ‘What is that? How’d that happen?’ But I think as soon as you understood, we were at a point where the medical people had done enough to make us feel confident that it wasn’t going to be a big deal.”
Hoping for best
In June, the NFL suspended Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon for the first two games of the regular season because he violated its substance-abuse policy. Gordon blamed prescription cough medicine that contained codeine for triggering a failed drug test.
Regardless of the reason, another strike could result in Gordon being suspended for as long as a full season. Banner, of course, hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“You’re concerned by the nature of it, but Josh has been doing a great job,” Banner said. “I know there have been reports to the contrary, but he’s been working hard. He’s been doing what we asked him to do. I think he’s been playing well. That’s all we can ask from him. So we’re all encouraged by seeing what he’s doing and we just need to keep it going.”
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 www.facebook.com/browns.abj.