By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
Well, so much for the idea of Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden and the starting offense getting a chance to wash that bad taste out of their mouths before the regular-season opener Sept. 8 against the Miami Dolphins.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski will rest Weeden and the majority of his starters when the preseason finale against the Chicago Bears begins at 8 p.m. today at Soldier Field, the team announced Wednesday. Bears coach Marc Trestman said “close to all” of his starters won’t play, either.
Backup quarterback Jason Campbell is expected to start for the Browns in place of Weeden. Campbell missed practice Tuesday with an unspecified illness, but he was feeling better Wednesday, a team spokesman said. Third-string quarterback Brian Hoyer also figures to receive a significant amount of playing time.
Chudzinski made his decision after weighing the risk of injury against the possibility of giving a young team that’s learning new offensive and defensive systems more reps. He entered the week preparing as if his starters would face the Bears in the aftermath of the Browns’ 26-7 preseason loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Weeden and the rest of the first-team offense produced only three points in eight possessions, and the starters were outscored 17-3 in Indianapolis. The performance was a noticeable drop-off for the first units because they outscored the St. Louis Rams 17-0 and the Detroit Lions 17-3 in the first two exhibition games, both of which the Browns won.
Now most of Chudzinski’s starters will go 14 days without live action before the opener against the Dolphins at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, though, isn’t worried. For him, the period of rest is status quo.
“I haven’t played in the fourth preseason game since 2008 or so,” Thomas said. “It’s been about five years. Every coach has a philosophy, and he’ll back it up with a philosophy of wanting to play X number of plays or so. In the end, it doesn’t really matter as long as you stay healthy. The fourth game is really all about some of the young guys trying to earn a job. If they can’t make this team, they are trying to put together good film so they get picked up by somebody else.”
All NFL teams are required to trim their rosters to 53 players by 6 p.m. Saturday. The Browns have 75 players, so several players on the team’s roster bubble will receive one final chance to audition for the organization today.
Still, a handful of significant contributors will face the Bears. On Tuesday, Chudzinski said some starters would receive 10-12 reps in Chicago.
Among those who will play are wide receivers Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin, an important backup and the team’s top punt returner. Gordon, the Browns’ No. 1 receiver, will miss the first two regular-season games while serving a suspension from the NFL for violating its substance-abuse policy, so he could benefit from some extra work before his extended downtime. Right guard Oniel Cousins, whom Chudzinski said has the edge to start when the regular season begins, will also face the Bears.
On defense, right end Billy Winn and right outside linebacker Quentin Groves will play. Technically, they’re key reserves. Starting right end Desmond Bryant is out with back spasms, and starting right outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard has been dealing with a bothersome knee, though he practiced this week.
“Half the coaches in the NFL don’t play their starters at all because they don’t want to risk injury and they don’t see any benefit to playing 10 snaps against the other team’s [backups],” Thomas said. “Some guys say, ‘We’d like to have consistency and get them out there and go through a regular warm-up, get some snaps and get a good drive going hopefully and feel good going into the regular season.’ I don’t think anything is right or anything is wrong.”
Weeden and starting running back Trent Richardson said they would have liked to play in the finale.
In three preseason games, Weeden completed 30-of-50 passes (60 percent) for 334 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft, finished with a passer rating of 99.9.
Richardson played in the past two exhibition games after sitting out the preseason opener with a sore right shin. He finished with 13 carries for 64 yards (4.9 average) to go along with one catch for 10 yards.
The third overall pick in last year’s draft, Richardson is pleased with the progress he made this preseason after arthroscopic knee surgery forced him to miss most of training camp and all four exhibition games last year. He returned in time for Week 1, but he lost some valuable prep time as a rookie.
“I feel real good about it,” Richardson said of this preseason. … “I think I’ve been doing fine, especially vibing with my team, with the offensive line.
“[Our timing is] so much better. Last year, I came in and went right into the fire. Now the timing is getting better each day.”
Spencer Lanning and Colton Schmidt will share punting duties today. They will battle for a job as the team’s primary punter.
Schmidt is expected to hold for all place kicks and handle all kickoffs. Kicker Shayne Graham is in line to handle field goals and extra points.
The Browns were awarded Schmidt off waivers from the San Francisco 49ers on Tuesday.
The Browns provided an update on rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft.
Mingo engaged in a weight-room workout Wednesday morning after doing some running Tuesday, a team spokesman said. Mingo has not practiced or played since Aug. 15, when he left a preseason win over the Detroit Lions with a bruised lung.
On Tuesday, Chudzinski said Mingo is getting better, but there is still no timetable for his return.
The Browns waived cornerback Trevin Wade and were awarded linebacker Eric Martin off waivers from the New Orleans Saints, the team announced Wednesday.
The Browns reached an injury settlement with Wade, a seventh-round pick in last year’s draft who had been sidelined since Aug. 17, when he suffered a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder while diving to intercept a pass during practice. Wade appeared in 13 games last season, compiling 11 tackles on defense and another six on special teams.
“Going to miss my GREAT teammates and great fans,” Wade wrote on Twitter. “Got to get back healthy! Best of luck to them boys!”
The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Martin is an undrafted rookie from the University of Nebraska who signed with the Saints on April 28 and was waived by them Tuesday. He appeared in all three of the Saints’ preseason games and tallied one special-teams tackle.
Martin is expected to be available for the preseason finale against the Bears. A first-team All-Big Ten selection as a senior, Martin led the Cornhuskers with 8½ sacks.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.