CLEVELAND: The Browns might have received another blow to an already-thin position during their final preseason game against the visiting Chicago Bears on Thursday night.
Rookie strongside linebacker James-Michael Johnson, a fourth-round draft pick who was set to fill in for Scott Fujita during his three-game suspension, injured his left oblique while tackling Bears fullback Tyler Clutts with 6:15 remaining in the second quarter.
Johnson gingerly walked off the field and returned less than a minute later, only to come up limping after one play. With 4:19 left in the second quarter, Johnson walked to the locker room with a member of the team’s medical staff. He did not return.
Browns coach Pat Shurmur said Johnson’s X-rays came back negative.
“I’m not sure he’s hurt,” Shurmur said. “He’s dealing with something. We’ll see, but that happens in games quite a bit.”
Shurmur gave most of his starters the night off because he wants them healthy for the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. Johnson was the only exception on defense.
The NFL suspended Fujita for the first three games of the season for his alleged role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal. Fujita is fighting the suspension in federal court.
The Browns don’t have a strongside linebacker on their depth chart behind Fujita and Johnson. The Browns took a big hit at the position on Aug. 4, when starting weakside linebacker Chris Gocong suffered a season-ending torn Achilles’ tendon. Kaluka Maiava is in line to start in place of Gocong.
Defensive ends Marcus Benard and Auston English and undrafted rookie cornerback Antwuan Reed cleared waivers and are now on the Browns’ injured reserve. The Browns waived/injured all three of them Monday.
Members of the Browns’ personnel department attended the game between the New York Jets and the Eagles on Thursday, Adam Caplan of TheSidelineView.com reported. The Eagles are loaded with defensive linemen and might waive one who would interest the Browns.
On the eve of cut day, the NFL Players Association approved a rule change that will allow each team to designate one player who may return from injured reserve during the season instead of sitting out the entire year.
A player placed on IR after 4 p.m. Tuesday will be eligible to return to practice after spending at least six weeks on the list. He will be eligible to return to the active roster after eight weeks. Teams that want to take advantage of the new rule must designate a specific player for return upon moving him to IR.
Starting next year, only those placed on IR after teams trim their rosters to 53 players will be eligible to return. But because the rule was adopted after the mandatory cut to 75 players on Monday, an exception is being made this year only. Teams are allowed to put one player who was placed on IR since the start of training camp back on their active roster by 9 p.m. Friday. They may then place him on IR Tuesday under the new designation.
It remains to be seen whether the Browns will take advantage of the new rule. If they wanted to do so, they certainly have some injured players to choose from.
Tight end Benjamin Watson missed most of training camp and all four preseason games with an undisclosed injury. Cornerback Dimitri Patterson (right ankle) and defensive tackle Scott Paxson (right knee) have been sidelined since the Aug. 10 preseason opener against the Detroit Lions. Strong safety Ray Ventrone (right hamstring) has been out since Aug. 19, and running back Chris Ogbonnaya (left ankle) has been sidelined since Aug. 20.
Defensive tackle Phil Taylor, who had surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle in May, is not eligible for the new rules because he is already on the physically unable to perform list. He must miss at least the first six weeks of the regular season before becoming eligible to return.
The players’ union also approved another change. Starting this season, the trading deadline will be pushed back from Oct. 16, the Tuesday after Week 6, to Oct. 30, the Tuesday after Week 8.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at https://ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.