By Nate Ulrich
and Ryan Lewis
Beacon Journal sports writers
BEREA: Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton spoke Thursday as if he’s expecting rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo to be sidelined Sunday with a bruised lung when the Miami Dolphins visit FirstEnergy Stadium for the regular-season opener.
“He’ll come back,” Horton said of Mingo. “He’ll be ready to play when his body tells him to. Would I like to have him out there? Yes. Am I disappointed? No, because I believe we have capable players that are going to step up and play.”
Mingo continued to practice Thursday on a limited basis, but he sat out contact drills during the 30-minute portion open to the media. The sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, Mingo ran sprints and warmed up with the team at the beginning of practice. Then he watched a kickoff drill from the sideline. He ran around cones and caught passes during a linebacker drill. But when his teammates began hitting tackling dummies and polishing their hand-fighting skills, Mingo sat out again.
It looks like he’ll do the same Sunday.
Mingo was diagnosed with a bruised lung after he left a preseason game Aug. 15 against the Detroit Lions because he was spitting up blood and experiencing shortness of breath. He spent two nights at the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus and resumed running and weightlifting until last week.
Mingo is scheduled to address the media today.
In addition to Mingo, starting right cornerback Buster Skrine (shoulder) and starting right defensive end Desmond Bryant (back) were limited in practice. Bryant is expected to play Sunday.
Skrine, though, was a surprise addition to the injury report Thursday. But a league source said Skrine will be fine and is still expected to play Sunday. That would be good news for the Browns because they have only three other cornerbacks on the active roster — starting left corner Joe Haden, nickel corner Chris Owens and rookie backup Leon McFadden. Owens has been dealing with a strained foot arch, and McFadden gave up several big plays in the final two exhibition games after coming back from a strained groin.
Starting right outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard was also added to the injury report with an unspecified illness, but he fully participated in practice. Right guard Shawn Lauvao (high ankle sprain) was the only player on the Browns’ active roster who sat out practice. He has been ruled out for the opener.
Ready to return
Wide receiver Travis Benjamin is the Browns’ undisputed No. 1 punt returner, but he expects to return at least some kickoffs as well.
“In certain situations, we’ve got it planned for me to go back to kick return,” Benjamin said. “So whenever I get the call to go back there, I’ll be ready for it.”
Free safety Johnson Bademosi is listed as the top kickoff returner on the depth chart, followed by running backs Bobby Rainey and Dennis Johnson. But Benjamin believes he’ll be summoned to do it Sunday.
“Probably,” Benjamin said. “There’s a big chance, yeah.”
After season-ending injuries to Montario Hardesty (knee surgery) and Dion Lewis (fractured fibula) and the cutting of Brandon Jackson, Chris Ogbonnaya will have a multiposition role in the Browns’ backfield.
Ogbonnaya is still No. 1 on the depth chart at fullback. But when starting running back Trent Richardson is on the sideline, Ogbonnaya could also get reps as the team’s No. 2 tailback until newcomers Rainey and Johnson are ready for more responsibility.
“We’re working hard to get the two young runners up to speed,” offensive coordinator Norv Turner said. “Obgonnaya’s going to have to take some of the pressure off Trent, and I think Trent has worked hard with his conditioning. That’s the most important thing. [Richardson] didn’t get a lot of reps in the preseason, but I do believe he’s ready to go.”
Turner also said Richardson and Ogbonnaya could serve as third-down backs.
Ogbonnaya believes he’ll be able to successfully juggle his duties.
“That’s why you condition and do those little things in game-type settings,” Ogbonnaya said. “You have to be prepared to do everything. You have to prepare as if you’re the starter. God forbid, if anything happens to Trent, you have to be prepared to go. If you prepare like the starter, you won’t be surprised. You won’t be caught.”
Investigators in North Carolina say a Georgia sports agent violated sports-agent laws by providing more than $20,000 in cash and benefits to Browns wide receiver Greg Little while he was at the University of North Carolina in 2010, the Associated Press reported.
In a search warrant unsealed this week, an agent with the Secretary of State’s Office said Little told investigators that Terry Watson of the Watson Sports Agency provided him with a monthly cash allowance of $2,200 in addition to travel expenses and other payments. Little also reimbursed tutor Jennifer Wiley for expenses paid on his behalf, according to a probable-cause affidavit in the warrant.
Little met with investigators in January and said he was “ready for this chapter of his life to be over and to get on with his life on a clean slate,” per the affidavit.
The NCAA investigation is closed, but authorities are still reviewing whether laws regulating sports agents were broken. In 2010, Little was declared ineligible and had to sit out his senior season at North Carolina.
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.