The Browns will head into their regular-season opener Sunday against the visiting Miami Dolphins with their top pick from this year’s draft ruled out and two defensive starters listed as questionable.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski officially ruled out rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo, the sixth overall pick who’s recovering from a bruised lung, and said the organization will take a wait-and-see approach with starting right cornerback Buster Skrine and starting left defensive end Ahtyba Rubin
Chudzinski said Skrine suffered a shoulder injury Thursday during practice and Rubin felt the effects of a strained calf after the same session. Neither player practiced today, though Skrine was on the field in shells working out on a stationary bike during the 30-minute portion of practice open to the media.
“Ahtyba Rubin came in yesterday with a strained calf after practice, so we gave him treatment,” Chudzinski said. “We rested him today. We’ll see how he responds in the next 48 hours to treatment. We have him listed as questionable. Buster Skrine had a shoulder injury. We held him out. We’ll do the same with him – treat him in the next 48 hours. He’s questionable, and we’ll see how he responds for the game.”
If Skrine cannot play, Chris Owens would likely start opposite left cornerback Joe Haden, and rookie Leon McFadden would be thrust into action in the defense’s nickel package.
“I feel like I just have to prepared for whenever my number’s called,” said McFadden, a third-round pick in this year’s draft. “So that’s being mentally prepared, studying my playbook and when I go out there, give it my all.”
The Browns have only four cornerbacks on their active roster – Skrine, Owens, Haden and McFadden, a third-round pick in this year’s draft.
If Rubin is out, John Hughes, a third-round pick in last year’s draft, could start in his place. Billy Winn, a sixth-round pick in last year's draft, would be another candidate, but he’s been playing mostly right defensive end.
Rubin missed three-plus games last season with an injured calf.
“It’s a completely different injury,” Chudzinski said.
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 didn’t resume running and weightlifting until last week.
Mingo practiced throughout this week on a limited basis, but he sat out contact drills.
“I'm disappointed,” Mingo said. “I want to be out there with the team. I want to be out there in my first game. But look on the bright side, I'm doing better and I'm just getting ready to come back whenever they let me come back.”
Mingo said he has felt good since he resumed practicing. He said he has not spit up blood or experienced shortness of breath since Aug. 15.
“We’ve been evaluating and testing him on a daily basis -- the doctors have been constantly doing that,” Chudzinski said. “So we’ll hold him out, and he’s not ready to go yet for this week.”
When asked if Mingo could play in Week 2 against the Baltimore Ravens, Chudzinski said, “We’ll see next week.”
Mingo was also vague about his level of optimism about the possibility of playing in Week 2.
“I'm coming back whenever they let me,” Mingo said. “We'll see what they say whenever they say it. The coaches, the doctors, whenever they tell me I can go out then I'll go back.”
Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith took a shot at Chudzinski, the Panthers’ offensive coordinator last season, earlier this week during a conference call with Seattle reporters.
“The prior offensive coordinator [Chudzinski] really was positioning himself to just apply for that head coaching job,” Smith said. “I think our offense suffered a little bit because of that.
“At times, we got cute. We did things that weren’t necessarily us, like the under-utilizing of [running back] Mike Tolbert. But we’re out of that. The past is the past.”
Chudzinski was asked for his reaction today.
“I’ve been focused on Miami,” Chudzinski said. “Anything else, I’m not worried about.”
The team elected Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas (offense), inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (defense) and outside linebacker Quentin Groves (special teams) its captains for the season, Chudzinski said.
Each week, Chudzinski will choose a fourth captain, and he picked wide receiver Davone Bess for Sunday. Bess spent the past five seasons with the Dolphins, who traded him to the Browns in swap of draft picks in April.