BEREA: Just when Browns running back Trent Richardson was moving on from his injury-plagued rookie season, he suffered another setback.
Richardson sat out the final practice of this week’s organized team activities Thursday with a strained lower-leg muscle in his shin. Coach Rob Chudzinski said Richardson, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, might miss the team’s mandatory minicamp June 4-6 because of the injury.
“It’s precautionary,” Chudzinski said. “We are holding him out. He may miss minicamp in a week and a half. I’m not sure. We’ll just take it day by day.”
Richardson missed all four preseason games last year after undergoing surgery Aug. 9 to remove a piece of loose cartilage from his left knee, which he also had scoped about six months earlier. Still, Richardson made it back in time for the regular-season opener Sept. 9 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
But in Week 6, two or three of Richardson’s ribs were broken when a Cincinnati Bengals defender rammed into him with his helmet. He was slowed by the injury for the rest of the season, but he played through it until a left high ankle sprain he suffered in Week 15 against the Denver Broncos sidelined him for the season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Richardson said he felt like a new man during minicamp April 17.
“I feel great, man, 100 percent,” said Richardson, who had 267 carries for 950 yards (3.6 average) and 11 touchdowns to go along with 51 catches for 367 yards and a touchdown last season. “I’m out there flying around. I finally feel skinny. I don’t have all this big padding on [my ribs] right now, so it’s much easier to breathe. I can sleep at night. I don’t feel anything wrong and I feel better than ever right now.”
Unfortunately for Richardson, that’s no longer the case.
Richardson did not speak to reporters Thursday. Chudzinski indicated Richardson suffered the leg injury during practice. The Browns also practiced Tuesday and Wednesday, but those sessions were not open to the media.
Richardson, though, wasn’t the only projected starter who sat out with an injury Thursday. Tight end Jordan Cameron was sidelined with a strained groin muscle.
Richardson and Cameron were on the field doing light exercises on the sidelines and watching practice. Running back Chris Ogbonnaya and tight end Gary Barnidge filled in for them most of the time with the first-team offense.
Ready for new role
It would have been understandable if Jabaal Sheard felt threatened — or even like the odd man out — after the Browns drafted Barkevious Mingo sixth overall last month.
But Sheard insists he doesn’t have such concerns as he continues his transition from a 4-3 defensive end to an outside linebacker in new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4, multi-front scheme. Sheard said there are plenty of snaps to be divided between him, Mingo and fellow outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves, and he believes all four of them will have prominent roles during the upcoming season.
“It’s a long game, and you’re going to need a rotation throughout, and it’s a long season as well,” Sheard said. “So definitely we’re going to need to share snaps and split it up amongst the four of us. You’ve got to stay healthy throughout the whole season, so I think that’s going to play a big part in how our rotation works.”
Sheard and Kruger have served as the first-team outside linebackers during OTAs. Thursday, Sheard played on the left side and Kruger on the right. Last week, it was the opposite.
“Nobody has a guaranteed position yet,” Sheard said. “So I think Coach is just figuring out where guys play better, where guys fit, how it’s going to work out.”
Last week, Horton said Sheard was “doing great” as he adjusted to his new position. Sheard, a 2011 second-round pick who has 15½ sacks the past two seasons, is convinced it’s a challenge he can conquer.
“I’m getting more and more comfortable every day at the position,” Sheard said. … “The [dropping back in] coverage part is kicking in and becoming a lot easier.”
Aiming to start
The Browns continued to experiment with their top guards Thursday, placing John Greco on the right side and Jason Pinkston on the left with the first-team offense. Shawn Lauvao, the starting right guard the past two seasons, worked on the left side with the second unit.
No matter how it all shakes out, Greco is determined to stay in the starting lineup.
“I’m hungry for a starting spot, no matter where it is, no matter what position it is,” Greco said.
Greco started 10 games at left guard this past season because Pinkston was placed on injured reserve with a blood clot in his lung. In his first four NFL seasons, Greco had only four starts.
“He came in and did a really nice job last season,” Chudzinski said. “He’s smart and he can handle a lot of different things. We’ve been working him on both sides and he is a valuable guy.”
Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said the team is experimenting with Buster Skrine and Johnson Bademosi as kickoff return men. Tabor also said Dion Lewis is in the mix, and he acknowledged Travis Benjamin is the leading candidate to return punts. … Defensive end Desmond Bryant was not at practice Thursday because he was tending to a legal matter, Chudzinski said. Bryant was arrested in February and charged with criminal mischief, and he is being sued by a North Miami Beach family for allegedly trying to storm into their house while intoxicated and incoherent. Billy Winn replaced Bryant with the first-team defense. … Quarterback Brandon Weeden completed a 45-yard touchdown pass to Benjamin, who beat the coverage of Skrine. Chudzinski said he has seen progression from Weeden throughout OTAs. … Rookie safety Jamoris Slaughter (Achilles), wide receivers David Nelson (knee), Jordan Norwood (unknown) and Perez Ashford (unknown) and offensive lineman Ryan Miller (unknown) did not practice. Rookie offensive tackle Chris Faulk (knee) worked out on an exercise bike at the beginning of practice and later stood on the field while wearing a helmet as the team conducted a walk-through. … Rookie cornerback Leon McFadden, a third-round pick in this year’s draft, practiced after sitting out last week because he was still in school. McFadden worked with the second-team defense. Skrine practiced with the first-team defense opposite cornerback Joe Haden. In the nickel package, Skrine moved to the slot, and Chris Owens played on the outside. … The Browns signed wide receiver Tori Gurley to fill the roster spot created by waiving fourth-string quarterback Thaddeus Lewis. Gurley signed with the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 1 and was waived on May 13. Last season, he spent time on the practice squads of the Minnesota Vikings (three weeks), Oakland Raiders (one week), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (two weeks) and San Diego Chargers (three weeks).
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.