BEREA: As Browns coach Pat Shurmur strolled onto the green practice field Monday morning, he yelled to the sidelines to ensure the media saw No. 33 warming up.
He stuck his thumb in the air when the sighting was confirmed.
Yes, Shurmur was excited to see rookie running back Trent Richardson return to action. Richardson, the third overall pick in this year’s draft, practiced for the first time since Aug. 6, three days before he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to have a piece of loose cartilage removed.
Shurmur said last week he’s “very optimistic” Richardson will be able to play Sunday in the Browns’ regular-season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. He remained hopeful after Richardson participated in team and individual drills Monday.
“If he’s ready to go, he will be our starter,” Shurmur said following practice. … “Trent looked healthy running around today. I think each person is different when they come back from injury and you handle each injury separately, but we’ll see as we go. All along, I’ve been hopeful that he’d be [able to play in the opener].”
During the 15-minute portion of practice open to the media, Richardson wore a black sleeve on his left knee as he took handoffs, ran routes and caught passes. He did not run full speed, but he lined up with the starting offense during a team period. The Browns did not practice in full pads, but they will Thursday, Shurmur said.
Montario Hardesty and Brandon Jackson also took reps with the first-team offense Monday. Hardesty is still listed as Richardson’s primary backup on the depth chart, and Jackson is the No. 3 running back. But Jackson said, depending on Richardson’s status, any of the top three backs could start against the Eagles.
“I don’t really know how many reps I took with the first team,” Jackson said. “All I know is when they called my name, I was out there ready. That’s what I’m gonna continue to prepare to do.”
Richardson, who did not speak to reporters Monday, had surgery Feb. 3 to have a torn meniscus repaired in the same knee. President Mike Holmgren said the Browns did not know another procedure would be required until the knee started swelling during training camp.
“It’s a good thing that we caught it, honestly, and it was actually the right decision to make and everything went well and he’s on track,” Holmgren said. “But no, he didn’t know. It’s something that they call a little flap. It must have just happened when he was doing something out there [in practice].”
Holmgren emphasized the importance of being cautious with Richardson if he does play Sunday.
“If he hadn’t had the surgery, he was going to touch the ball a lot,” Holmgren said. “But now you have to be careful. The worst thing we could do is rush him before he’s ready.”
The NFL has yet to announce whether it will suspend starting cornerback Joe Haden for four games for reportedly failing a drug test, but Holmgren made it clear the Browns are bracing.
“I don’t want to think too much about that one because I have enough things to get emotional about,” Holmgren said. “It’ll happen when it happens, and we’ll all deal with it when it happens.”
Holmgren, though, said he hasn’t received any updates from the league about the matter. If Haden appealed the suspension behind the scenes, it could explain the lack of updates.
But neither Haden nor the Browns have confirmed an appeal.
“Some of those appeals things, the timing, there doesn’t seem to be a uniform way of doing it,” Holmgren said. “Sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes it doesn’t take long for the decision. So all we can do is, again, he’s practicing, and we have not heard anything.”
Haden granted interview requests Monday but said he couldn’t discuss the possibility of facing a suspension. He said he didn’t know whether he would play Sunday or in all 16 games of the upcoming season.
“I don’t know,” said Haden, the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft. “I have no idea.”
Still, Holmgren isn’t the only one preparing for Haden to miss games.
“Obviously, that’s a blow,” said cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who would likely start in Haden’s place if a suspension is served. “No doubt about it. But, hey, it’s professional football. It’s not Pop Warner. This is professional [football]. You’ve got to step in and be a professional. It’s as simple as that.”
Patterson and starting tight end Benjamin Watson said they expect to play Sunday after missing most of camp with injuries.
Patterson, the team’s nickel cornerback, practiced Monday for the first time since he injured his right ankle and knee Aug. 10 in the Browns’ preseason opener against the Detroit Lions.
“I had the knee and ankle, so it was a tough a deal,” Patterson said. “When you’re coming back off something like that, it’s gonna be mental. There are mental hurdles you’ve got to clear. That was today. I think I cleared those hurdles. I have peace of mind, so I’m very confident about Sunday.”
Watson, who returned to practice Saturday, missed all four preseason games with an injured leg muscle.
“I’ll be ready,” Watson said. “It’s always tough when you have some off obviously, and I had an extended amount of time away from practice. So I’m just getting back, getting my feet back, getting back to playing, but come Sunday, I’ll be ready.”
Strong safety Ray Ventrone also returned to practice Monday. Ventrone had been out since Aug. 19 with an injured right hamstring.
Starting free safety Eric Hagg did not practice. He was sent home with a stomach flu, Shurmur said.
Running back Chris Ogbonnaya (left ankle), rookie strongside linebacker James-Michael Johnson (oblique), offensive linemen Oniel Cousins (right leg) and John Greco (undisclosed), tight end Jordan Cameron (undisclosed) and defensive tackle Phil Taylor (pectoral muscle; on physically unable to perform list) sat out, too. They rode stationary bikes on the field as practice began.
Holmgren said he’s less concerned than he was in April that Colt McCoy’s popularity could become a distraction for the Browns’ new starting quarterback, rookie Brandon Weeden. Holmgren said his worries have subsided, because McCoy, who started last year but will now serve as the No. 2 quarterback, “has chosen to handle [the situation] about as well as you could handle it.” … Defensive end Brian Sanford rejoined the Browns on Monday after being signed to their eight-man practice squad. He was waived Saturday after spending all of camp and the past two seasons with the team. The Browns cut linebacker Solomon Elimimian, who was waived by the Minnesota Vikings on Friday, to make room for Sanford on the practice squad. … The following Browns players changed their jersey numbers: rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon (from No. 86 to No. 13); linebacker Craig Robertson (from No. 47 to No. 53); undrafted rookie linebacker L.J. Fort (from No. 40 to No. 58); defensive tackle Billy Winn (from No. 79 to No. 90); and practice-squad center Garth Gerhart (from No. 53 to No. 61). … Eagles left defensive end Jason Babin, who had 18 sacks last season, returned to practice Monday and expects to face the Browns. He’s coming back from an injured calf. “I’m about 98.9 [percent],” Babin told reporters.
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 at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.