BEREA: Josh Cribbs’ contract with the Browns is scheduled to expire after the upcoming season, and he’s determined to earn his keep beyond this year by returning to his NFL roots as a dominant special-teams force.


Cribbs’ role as a receiver has become more significant in each of the past three years, and he had a career-high 41 catches for 518 yards and four touchdowns last season. However, with the addition of rookie receivers Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin, Cribbs expects his playing time as a receiver to be scaled back this year.


“I’ve got to show up,” Cribbs, who’s scheduled to make a base salary of about $1.4 million this year, said Saturday after the first training camp practice open to the public. “My role is changing. They want more production out of special teams, so I’ll give it to them. Less role in the offense maybe, but I’ve just gotta do my part on special teams, and nobody will know the difference.”


Cribbs, 29, expects not only to return kicks and punts on a full-time basis, but also to become a fixture on the coverage units.


“I have no problem going to the Pro Bowl for covering kicks or punts or returning,” Cribbs said, adding he lost 12 pounds in the offseason and now weighs 210. “I’ll still be effective when I get in the offense. I’ll still move the ball, but we need to create an impact on special teams. We didn’t really have that last year, and I’m gonna make sure that we get that back.


“It’s something that our team lacked. When you have those close games, special teams is what actually tips you over the edge. Big punt, big kick return, we need that. So I’m gonna put my focus back on where it should be — how I made it — and get some returns.”


Injury update


The Browns placed defensive tackles Ahtyba Rubin and Phil Taylor (torn pectoral muscle) and fullback Eddie Williams on the active/physically unable to perform list. They also placed tight end Evan Moore on the active/non-football injury list.


Shurmur declined to disclose the injuries of Rubin, Williams and Moore.


Rubin had surgery last month to repair a slight pelvic tear, the Plain Dealer reported. Shurmur declined to confirm the report, but he said Rubin “is gonna be back here real soon. It’ll be a couple days.”


Rubin looked comfortable while running sprints on the side of the practice field. With Rubin and Taylor out, Brian Schaefering and Scott Paxson filled their spots on the first-team defense.


Shurmur said Moore also should return soon.


Tough time


Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who continued to take the majority of the snaps with the first-team offense, had a rough day. The defense dominated seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills throughout practice.


In 11-on-11, Weeden rolled to his left and attempted a deep pass to tight end Benjamin Watson, even though strong safety T.J. Ward had gained position. Ward could have intercepted the pass, but it went off his hands.


“I don’t put too much credence in that,” Browns President Mike Holmgren said of Weeden’s recent struggles. “I think seven-on-seven for the first practice, the offense is usually behind the defense first of all, there are very few quarterbacks that shoot lights out in that thing, certainly not a rookie. So, no, I don’t worry too much about that.”


Holmgren said he’s “fine” with keeping four quarterbacks, Weeden, Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace and Thaddeus Lewis, for now.


“Typically you don’t keep four quarterbacks,” Holmgren said. “Sometimes teams keep two. We still have a ways to go here to sort it out. I’m very proud of how they’ve handled themselves because it’s a very competitive situation, a hot story. The young men have been great. As long as it continues to be that way, then I can live with the competition.”


Still fighting


Linebacker Scott Fujita said he remains confident his three-game suspension stemming from the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal will be overturned. The NFL Players Association has sued the NFL on behalf of Fujita in an attempt to force the league to rescind the suspension.


“I’ve always been optimistic about things, but also knowing it’s an uphill battle,” said Fujita, who has repeatedly denied the league’s accusations that he contributed money to a pool that paid players for injuring opponents. … “I like the fact that more and more truths are starting to emerge. I think everybody kind of wanted to get into that world. It’s in the hands of someone else now. It’s beyond my control, so I just got to worry about my work on the field every single day, and kind of let that run its course.”


Shurmur has a much different view of Fujita’s lawsuit in federal court and a backup plan.


“We’re gonna lose Scott for the first three games,” Shurmur said. “We know that. So we’ve already decided on a plan, and although it may not be obvious, the way we’re rotating the linebackers in there, that’s getting done already.”


Bouncing back


Watson suffered three concussions last year and ended on the season on injured reserve, though he said he never thought about hanging it up.


“Retiring? I’m 31 years young,” Watson said. “This is last year. You look at every injury you have, whether it’s a knee or ankle or brain injury, you take an assessment of how you recover, you consult your physicians, you consult independent physicians, you get their opinions. They won’t let you play if you don’t think you can do it. You say, ‘How do I feel?’ You pray about it, you talk to your family about it, you make a decision. That’s with anything across the board. I’m at a point where I’m moving forward. That was last year. That was eight months ago. You heal like anything else. I’m excited about playing this year.”


Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Browns blog at https://ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.