By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Running back Trent Richardson and strong safety T.J. Ward are among the players Browns coach Rob Chudzinski ruled out for the preseason opener Thursday night against the visiting St. Louis Rams.
“Those guys would be available to play normally,” Chudzinski said Wednesday during his post-practice news conference. “But since it’s the preseason we’re going to be smart with them and hold them for the game.”
Richardson, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, missed two practices last week after being kicked in the right shin, the same one in which he suffered a strained muscle in the spring. He returned to practice Monday and took three carries in team drills, but he hasn’t worked in any 11-on-11 sessions since.
Richardson missed most of training camp and all four preseason games last year after undergoing surgery Aug. 9 to have a piece of loose cartilage removed from his left knee. Still, he made it back in time for the 2012 regular-season opener.
Chudzinski said he’s not concerned about Richardson’s durability and will determine his status for the other preseason games week by week. The Browns will open the regular season Sept. 8 at home against the Miami Dolphins.
“It’s the preseason,” Chudzinski said. “We’ve been working him. We have a plan for that, of working him, and making sure that he gets reps as needed out here in practice. And we’ll build him to be ready for the beginning of the [regular] season.”
Chudzinski also said second-string running back Montario Hardesty won’t play Thursday. He has missed most of training camp with an injured hamstring tendon.
Running backs Dion Lewis and Chris Ogbonnaya will work with the first-team offense against the Rams, Chudzinski said. Ogbonnaya is listed as the top fullback on the team’s depth chart, so Lewis will likely start at tailback.
Chudzinski said most of the starters will play for about one quarter, and Lewis is eager to be showcased against someone other than his teammates.
“That’s one of the things about training camp, after that first week, you want to hit somebody else,” Lewis said. “It’s definitely going to be great to get out there Thursday and see somebody in a different color uniform.”
Ward missed three practices last week with a sore hamstring. He returned to action Monday but has since sat out team drills.
Johnson Bademosi took the first-team reps at strong safety in the two most recent practices, meaning he’s slated to start against the Rams alongside free safety Tashaun Gipson. Bademosi moved from cornerback to safety this offseason, a position he had never played before.
“These reps have been real valuable for Johnson,” Chudzinski said. “He’s getting good, quality reps with the ones. In the long run, that’s going to help him and help us.”
Rookie cornerback Leon McFadden, a third-round pick in this year’s draft, is among the players who didn’t practice Wednesday and will be sidelined Thursday, Chudzinski said. McFadden pulled a groin muscle Tuesday, Chudzinski said, and worked out on a stationary bike Wednesday during practice.
“Hopefully we’ll get him back soon enough, and he’ll get his opportunity to show in the games what he can do,” Chudzinski said.
Other players who won’t face the Rams are right guard Shawn Lauvao (left ankle), wide receiver David Nelson (knee), fullback Brock Bolen (calf), tight end Brad Smelley (hamstring), defensive end Dave Kruger (concussion) and offensive linemen Ryan Miller (concussion), Chris Faulk (knee) and Oniel Cousins (ankle).
Jason Pinkston continued to work as the first-team right guard Wednesday in place of Lauvao, who was carted off the field Monday after injuring his left ankle. Chudzinski said he doesn’t have details on how long Lauvao will be out.
Rookies Garrett Gilkey, a seventh-round pick, and Caylin Hauptmann, who joined the Browns as an undrafted free agent, will serve as main the backups to Pinkston and first-string left guard John Greco, Chudzinski said.
More than donning a game jersey or running through the tunnel at FirstEnergy Stadium or hearing the crowd roar, Jabaal Sheard simply wants to see how new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4, multi-front, attacking scheme stacks up against an opponent. The Browns certainly won’t unveil most of the wrinkles in their schemes until the regular season begins, but they’ll offer a sneak peek Thursday.
“That’s really what I’m excited to see,” said Sheard, who’s transitioning from defensive end in the Browns’ old 4-3 scheme to outside linebacker in Horton’s system. “I know we’re not going to do too much being that it’s the first preseason game. But I just want to see how all of us hit on the same page. Obviously we’ve been running a lot against our offense, and we all know what we’re doing on their side of the ball. They’re not running plays just for us. They’re running different things. So it’ll just be nice to see a few different bodies out there, see how guys communicate.”
Sheard will make his unofficial debut at outside linebacker against the Rams. He played between 270-272 pounds last season, but has trimmed down to 265 pounds in hopes of converting successfully to his new position.
Sheard and Paul Kruger, who signed with the Browns in March, are penciled in as the starting outside linebackers. Rookie Barkevious Mingo, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, and Quentin Groves, another recent free-agent acquisition, are the main backups who are expected to round out a formidable group of edge rushers.
“It’s going to be a good mix-up,” Sheard said. “We rotate. It’s going to be exciting. We’re going to stay with fresh legs, and it should be fun up front.”
Cornerback Joe Haden believes the Browns have more defensive firepower now than in any other season since he was drafted seventh overall in 2010.
“This is the most talented defense for sure,” Haden said. “We just have so many people. I keep speaking of our front seven because those dudes are amazing, honestly. Those dudes are really good, [nose tackle] Phil [Taylor], [end Ahtyba Rubin], Jabaal, Mingo. There are so many people that can start.
“We have starters on our team that could start for other teams. When I was here earlier, we had players that were really talented players, but if they left and went to [the San Francisco] 49ers or [the] Baltimore [Ravens], they wouldn’t be starting on that team. So now we have players that could start on other teams and it’s just amazing to see them working and grinding and competing.”
Haden is especially giddy about the Browns’ revamped pass rush.
“When your front office puts a whole lot of money into that front seven and went out and [signed Kruger and end Desmond Bryant], we drafted Mingo, you know they want to get to the passer. They want to get that good pass rush. That’s going to help us out a whole lot. When quarterbacks are uncomfortable, they won’t be able to step up in the pocket and make those great passes.”
Honoring a legend
The Browns will honor Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown during their Oct. 3 game against the Buffalo Bills at FirstEnergy Stadium, the team announced Wednesday.
Brown boycotted the franchise’s unveiling of its Ring of Honor in September 2010 because he felt disrespected when former Browns President Mike Holmgren stripped him of his executive adviser title in May 2010. Brown criticized former Browns majority owner Randy Lerner for failing to deliver the message himself.
With new owner Jimmy Haslam in charge, Brown rejoined the organization in an official capacity as its special adviser May 29.
"We are absolutely thrilled to formally honor Jim Brown, the greatest running back in the history of the NFL,” Haslam said in a news release. “Jim is synonymous with the Cleveland Browns. He has an undeniable place in our history, and we look forward to celebrating him appropriately on Oct. 3."
The Browns will face the Bills in a Thursday night game that will be nationally televised by NFL Network.
“When Jimmy Haslam invited me to do this, I was flattered,” Brown said in the release. “That night will be about family, about joining together with the city, the region, and the greatest fans in all the NFL, in a celebration of the Cleveland Browns. I’m thrilled about the opportunity.”
Several rookies received botched haircuts from their teammates as part of their unofficial initiation into the NFL. Haden posted a video on Instagram of Groves shaving Mingo’s head and Taylor taking chunks of hair off Armonty Bryant’s scalp. Kicker Brandon Bogotay and offensive lineman Martin Wallace also surfaced on the practice field with goofy hairdos.
“They look terrible,” Haden said with a laugh.
Haden, though, thinks he had it worse as a rookie.
“I had to buy the whole defense iPads, so that was a lot worse than getting my hair cut,” Haden said. “I would’ve much rather got a chip out of the side of my head.”
Chudzinski will make his preseason debut as an NFL head coach Thursday. “I like coach’s whole vibe,” Haden said. “He hasn’t changed since he got here. He’s been the same. He’s never too high. He’s never too low. He’s a great people person, and you’re able to talk to him all the time. When we see him at the game, I expect to see the same thing we’ve been seeing at practice. If he needs to yell, he yells. If he needs to coach you up, he’ll pull you aside and talk to you. I expect to see the same thing we’ve been seeing since we got here.” … Kickers Brandon Bogotay and Shayne Graham will take turns against the Rams on kickoffs and field goals. “Generally, we’re going into it trying to alternate kickoffs and kicks,” Chudzinski said. ... Cornerback Chris Owens practiced with the first-team defense Wednesday opposite Haden.
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 www.facebook.com/browns.abj.