By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: The Browns capped their Family Night practice Saturday with a special moment when Ryan Encinas, 5, of Cuyahoga Falls, stepped onto the field at FirstEnergy Stadium wearing a full Browns uniform and ran for a 40-yard touchdown as an announced crowd of 24,131 cheered and barked for him.
The offense and defense lined up to simulate the play. Encinas fumbled at one point, but grabbed the ball and kept going until he reached the end zone, where linebacker Craig Robertson picked him up and the team huddled around him. Encinas, his father, Robert, mother Angela Bozic and sister Rowan, 3, also attended practice Wednesday at the team’s headquarters in Berea.
“How ’bout that first-round draft pick there, Ryan Encinas, scoring the winning touchdown tonight?” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski asked at the beginning of his post-practice news conference.
Encinas was selected by the Littlest Heroes, a nonprofit organization that impacts the lives of children with cancer and their families. A tumor was discovered on Ryan’s left lung at age 2, but he celebrated two years of remission Aug. 2.
“To have this moment in front of these fans in this stadium, I’m getting chills right now,” rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo said. “I’m sure it meant a lot to that little kid.”
Chudzinski said his 5-year-old son, Kaelan, suggested the idea after watching a similar scene unfold on TV. Brain cancer patient Jack Hoffman, 7, ran for a 69-yard touchdown this year during the University of Nebraska’s spring game.
“That was cool,” quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “When Chud told us we were going to do that in team meetings, I was pumped about it. That was a cool deal. The kid is 5 years old, and he’s been through a lot. I do a lot of stuff back home with Children’s Hospital, so every time something like that happens, it brings a lump to your throat.”
Ryan’s run was powerful, emotional and inspiring.
It also overshadowed a practice in which the defense dominated and the offense struggled. The Browns will return to the stadium Thursday when they open the preseason against the St. Louis Rams, hoping their offense will show more life.
Chudzinski conceded that the offense is behind the defense.
“Typically this time of year, that’s the case,” Chudzinski said. “It takes a little while for an offense to jell and all the moving parts to come together. My experience is you keep working, you keep pushing them, you keep putting them in situations, and it starts clicking. We haven’t got to that point yet where we’re clicking yet offensively, but it will come.”
Cornerback Joe Haden cut in front of wide receiver Josh Gordon on a deep crossing route and intercepted a pass from Weeden near the 45-yard line.
“It sounds weird, but I’m still making some mistakes, but I’m learning from those mistakes,” Weeden said. “It’s going to happen when you play against a good defense. Joe Haden is one of the best corners. He’s a great player and that makes me better. I feel like I’m moving in the right direction, my comprehension of the offense, my feel, my understanding of where to go with the football is getting there. I’ve got a long ways to go, but I’ve got to keep working and these guys are going to rely on me.”
Wide receiver Davone Bess later sneaked through the coverage of linebacker Tank Carder and cornerback Chris Owens to grab a pass from Weeden just short of the goal line and ran in for an 11-yard touchdown.
But the highlights were rare for the offense. The mistakes — including a drop by Gordon and two more by receiver Jordan Norwood along with a false-start penalty on left tackle Joe Thomas — were more common.
Chudzinski, though, is determined to plow ahead. He’s encouraged by wide receiver Greg Little working out with Weeden after practices and stressed that commitment must become contagious.
“We need to be a hungry team,” Chudzinski said. “We don’t have a lot of marquee guys, a lot of marquee names. So we’re going to have to be hungry. We’re going to have to scrap for everything we get and work for everything we get and work to improve and continue that attitude.”
Running back Trent Richardson is one of the few marquee names on the offense. He sat out the second consecutive practice Saturday after being kicked in the right shin, the same one in which he suffered a strained muscle in the spring.
Chudzinski said the Browns will work Richardson back into practice Monday as expected. He hasn’t decided whether Richardson will play Thursday.
Either way, the offense has plenty of work to do before the regular-season opener.
“I think we’re about where typically you are a lot of times in training camp from an offensive standpoint,” Chudzinski said. “You go into the game, usually you’re going to do some good things, you’re going to do some things that are good coaching points that guys can learn from and you work to keep improving throughout the preseason and get yourself ready and be ready to play Sept. 8 against Miami.”
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.