BEREA—It was almost a case of the last man standing.
Last week, against the Bengals the Browns had just two wide receivers left by the end of the game and one of those players have been on the injury list this week.
Brian Hartline and Travis Benjamin started the game at wide receiver with Marlon Moore and Darius Jennings as the backups. Terrelle Pryor and Dwayne Bowe were healthy scratches leaving the Browns with just four wide receivers as Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel were inactive due to concussions.
Benjamin suffered a shoulder injury in the first quarter and wasn’t a factor the rest of the game. Moore injured his ribs in the second quarter on his 14-yard reception and tried to return at less than 100 percent, leaving just Hartline and Jennings to finish the game. Hartline was limping after the game and has been on the injury report all week with a hip injury.
As the Browns started their practice week Wednesday, they were missing Hawkins, Gabriel, Bowe (personal), with Hartline, Benjamin and Moore limited.
The Browns are hoping for a boost in their receiving corps this week as Gabriel was cleared of his concussion and returned to the practice field on Thursday. He and Moore were wearing red non-contact jerseys at practice and Bowe was back at practice. Benjamin said after practice that he expected to be able to suit up and play this week.
“Getting back there,” Mike Pettine said. “Gabriel should be out (practicing) today so that helps. We’ll see how he is. Our training staff does a good job. Part of the (concussion) protocol is exercise so it’s rare that those guys come back out of shape, but they’re not playing football so we’ll see where he is today. Travis will be out there limited in a red [non-contact] shirt. We’re done being in pads, but just as a precaution, he and Marlon will be in red. It’s not as bad today looking at the depth of that group and the availability of that group as it was 15 minutes after the game.”
Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said he’s never experienced the type of situation at the receiver position with injuries last week in his years coaching.
“We’ll become a little clearer as the week goes on who we might have,” DeFilippo said. “I’ll be honest, in my coaching career, I don’t think I’ve ever been down to two receivers with a lot of football to be played.
“The tight ends had to accept a bigger role but I think everyone kept their cool, everyone kept their poise, but guys stepped up,” he said. “It was an unfortunate situation that we had so many guys go down.”
Pettine said that E.J. Bibbs was the next man up, despite being a tight end.
“You just manufacture with extra tight ends, whatever skill guys you have left,” he said. “Duke (Johnson Jr.), you would just line him up. It’s really the same for him as being an empty, some of his routes. You have a fallback plan as a coordinator, especially when you go in with four wide outs that ‘OK, if disaster strikes, what’s my plan?’ You have to change personnel groupings and put those guys in spots that they’re already used to playing so their world doesn’t change.”
Johnny Manziel was used as a receiver on a play last year and Pettine was asked if he could’ve been used in that position last week.
“That’s like in the 18th inning using your second baseman – visions of Jose Canseco coming in to pitch,” Pettine said. “That would be the equivalent. I know Josh McCown has done it in his history, has played wide receiver and had some production. If it had gotten to that, then sure, it’s all hands on deck.”
DeFilippo said that Pryor is close to being active this week.
“I think Terrelle is very close,” he said. “I’ve been very pleased with Terrelle. He did not take a huge drop off mentally from when he left here.”
Haden, Hawkins Still Down: WR Travis Benjamin (shoulder), OL Cameron Erving (ankle), WR Taylor Gabriel (concussion), DB Justin Gilbert (concussion), DB Joe Haden (concussion), WR Brian Hartline (hip), WR Andrew Hawkins (concussion), WR Marlon Moore (ribs) and TE Gary Barnidge (ankle) were listed on the injury report. Pettine said that it is becoming a real possibility that Haden and Hawkins will not play the rest of the season.
“I think the longer you get out, it becomes more of a real possibility (injured reserve),” Pettine said. “I think we’ll have some clarity soon. I know it’s frustrating for both of those guys because they want to be out there.”
Defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil said that Haden’s absence has been a big blow to the defense.
“Joe’s one of the best players in the league, so when you lose him that hurts,” O’Neil said. “That’s the NFL, you’re going to lose guys, you have to adjust.”
Johnson Down: FB Malcolm Johnson’s rookie season ended on injured reserve, but Pettine thinks he has a bright future with the Browns.
“I think in the role he played, he was very good for us,” Pettine said. “He got better with every game he played.”
Pettine said he wasn’t sure if Johnson would need surgery for the groin injury he suffered.
“We haven’t gotten the final word if he needs surgery. “
Brady Back in Town: Former Browns QB Brady Quinn will be the analyst this Sunday for the Browns/49ers game which will be broadcast by Fox.
Toys for Tots: The Browns and local Marines will host the annual Toys for Tots gameday toy drive at FirstEnergy Stadium gates prior to Sunday’s game against San Francisco as part of the Browns First and Ten campaign.
Fans are encouraged to bring new, unwrapped toys for kids in need from Cuyahoga County. Members of the US Marine Corps will help collect donations, including monetary contributions, as fans enter the stadium beginning at 11 a.m.
Last year, the Browns and Dawg Pound helped provide thousands of toys and donations to local youth during the holidays. Fans who make a donation will receive an official orange Browns #give10 wristband as part of the First and Ten movement. The event is part of the Browns’ continued effort to lift spirits of those in need throughout the holiday season.
Roper to South Carolina: Pettine said that Kurt Roper will finish the season out with the Browns even though he’s been reported to join the coaching staff of Will Muschamp at South Carolina.
“I can’t confirm (the hiring), but he’s been very helpful to us.”
Roper served this season as a Senior Offensive Assistant for the Browns.