By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Sometimes it takes a perennial Pro Bowler and team captain who commands respect to set the record straight on issues facing his team. Left tackle Joe Thomas fit the profile in every way when he addressed the media Wednesday after practice.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski made headlines Tuesday when he characterized the competition between projected starting quarterback Brandon Weeden and second-stringer Jason Campbell as being “close.” The evidence, though, suggests the opposite, because Weeden has taken all the snaps with the first-team offense throughout spring practices, training camp and the preseason opener last week.
When asked for his take, Thomas called it exactly how he sees it.
“Brandon’s taking all the first-team reps, so take it for what that is,” Thomas said. “I don’t know. I’m not evaluating the quarterbacks. I think Jason’s had a great camp, so I wouldn’t necessarily say that they’re not both playing well ’cause they both are. So I don’t know how you evaluate which quarterback is going to be the starter or not. But I mean I’ve got eyes just like everybody else does, and Brandon’s taken all the first reps.”
In other words, the starting job is clearly Weeden’s to lose.
But don’t go predicting Weeden will lead the Browns to the Super Bowl just because he completed 10-of-13 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown and posted a passer rating of 127.7 during a 27-19 win over the St. Louis Rams last week in the preseason opener.
Thomas conceded the Rams put up little resistance against the starting offense, which scored a field goal and a touchdown in its only two series. The Detroit Lions are expected to present a more legitimate test when they face the Browns at 7:30 tonight in the second exhibition game. Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said his starters would play until midway through the second quarter and possibly even for the entire first half.
“We’re going to be playing a few more snaps than we did last time,” Thomas said. “We’re going to see a little more complex defense. [The Rams] were about as vanilla as you possibly could [be] last week, so it wasn’t a challenge at all figuring what we needed to do because they just stood there for us. Obviously we’re going to get a different look at the defense, and it’s going to be interesting to see how we’re able to adjust when they bring a pressure or they play a different coverage or they do something that you’re going to see in a regular NFL game.
“[The Lions] will be vanilla, but they’ll be less vanilla than [the Rams] were last week. So instead of zero pressures and zero coverage changes, we may get one out of every four plays. So neither team really game plans much, but they’re going to show a little bit more of their defense. We’re going to probably show a little bit more of our offense. It’s just kind of baby steps at this point in the preseason.”
Cornerback Chris Owens will face the Lions after sitting out last week against the Rams, Chudzinski said. Owens strained the arch of a foot Aug. 7, but returned to practice Monday.
Owens practiced with the first-team defense Wednesday. He’s still locked in a battle with Buster Skrine for the starting cornerback job opposite Joe Haden.
“I think both of those guys have really shown a lot,” Chudzinski said. “It’s not just about winning one position but showing that you can play, and we’ll find a place for you. So I’m anxious to see him back out on the field as well as seeing Buster.”
Skrine started against the Rams, recovered a fumble in the first quarter and has strung together a few solid practices in Owens’ absence by repeatedly breaking up passes and applying tight coverage.
“He has really improved,” Chudzinski said. “He is a guy that I see that on a daily basis. He has made some plays. He is getting more confident. That is the key. He has confidence in his technique and his ability.”
Strong safety T.J. Ward (hamstring) probably won’t face the Lions, Chudzinski said. Ward has been practicing all week, though he sat out last week against the Rams.
“T.J. has been working all week long, feel good about him,” Chudzinski said. “We’ll probably hold him for the game. Nothing wrong, just want to be smart about it and get him ready for the season.”
Punter T.J. Conley (slight groin strain) and wide receiver Jordan Norwood (hamstring) did not practice Wednesday and will be game-time decisions today, Chudzinski said. Wide receiver David Nelson (knee) did not practice, either, and will be sidelined against the Lions.
Rookie cornerback Leon McFadden (groin) returned to practice Wednesday and participated in team drills, but it’s doubtful he’ll face the Lions, Chudzinski said.
Undrafted rookie offensive lineman Chris Faulk had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Monday, Chudzinski said. In Louisiana State University’s 2012 season opener, Faulk suffered torn medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in the same knee.
When asked if Faulk will be placed on injured reserve, Chudzinski said, “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
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.