Ailing Secondary to Take on Panthers

The Browns have lost their best cornerback, Leigh Bodden, just in time to face the resurgent Panthers and their dangerous WR duo of Steve Smith (pictured) and Keyshawn Johnson. Here's an update on Gary Baxter and Leigh Bodden's recuperation and the team's mindset as it refocuses on its next opponent.

The Browns have to play one more game before they begin their bye week, a time they will use to mend their ailing secondary. As it is now, they will probably have to face the Panthers in Charlotte without starting right cornerback Gary Baxter, and possibly without left cornerback Leigh Bodden.

Bodden left the game against the Raiders in the first half with an ankle injury. He returned for one series and had to leave again. He wore a boot on his ankle after the game.

A pectoral injury that forced Baxter to miss the entire preseason flared up when he tried tackling Bengals receiver Chris Henry in the second game. He is taking the recovery slowly this time.

"I'm progressing," Baxter said. "My arm feels weak and it feels like it's not part of my body. I'm not going to try to come back too soon and have this linger. When I come back, I don't want to have a harness on or treatment or rehab. I want to be able to go out full speed and just play. I want to be healthy like I was."

Unfortunately for the Browns, Panthers receiver Steve Smith has fully recovered from a hamstring injury that kept him in street clothes earlier in the season. Daven Holly will start if Baxter cannot play. Baxter was inactive against the Ravens and Raiders.

Holly gave up a touchdown pass to Randy Moss that gave Oakland a 14-0 lead. The Raiders led 21-3 before the Browns scored three touchdowns to escape Oakland with a 24-21 victory, their first of the season. Charlie Frye threw one touchdown pass to Darnell Dinkins, one to Kellen Winslow and one to Joe Jurevicius. Frye also threw an interception in the end zone in the fourth quarter for the second straight week, but the Browns survived.

When Bodden was injured, it forced coach Romeo Crennel to use Holly and Ralph Brown at cornerback. Antonio Perkins played in nickel situations. They would have been more exposed had they been facing an experienced quarterback. Instead, Andrew Walter was making his first NFL start. Walter completed just nine of 23 passes.

Holly is a work in progress. The Browns would prefer that work get done in preseason, but that is not what is happening. Holly gave up 137 yards on eight catches in the Ravens game, and was victimized on three completions from Steve McNair to Mark Clayton in the drive the Ravens used to kick the game-winning field goal.

Holly would not be playing if cornerback Daylon McCutcheon were not placed on injured reserve because he did not recover sufficiently from knee surgery. And though the loss is not as significant as trying to play without McCutcheon and Baxter, Justin Hamilton is nursing an ankle injury that forced him to miss the Oakland game. Hamilton added depth to the secondary and was a contributor on special teams.

Meanwhile, the Browns are still feeling like they have ground to make up in the AFC North. They snapped a three-game losing streak when they knocked off the Raiders. They believe they should have beaten the Saints and Ravens. They did not, so they are 1-3 heading into Charlotte.

"We've won one game, so you can't say we've improved much," linebacker Andra Davis said. "If we're 3-3, then we can say we're improved, but we can't get caught up in all the talk just because we might have played well in one game. We have to get some victories."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Reuben Droughns returned to the lineup after missing the game against the Ravens with a shoulder injury. His fumble in the first quarter was returned 31 yards for a touchdown by Raiders linebacker Sam Williams. Droughns finished with 100 yards on 25 carries.

--KR Joshua Cribbs returned one kick 62 yards in the second quarter to set up a 28-yard field goal by Phil Dawson and another kick 53 yards to set up a three-yard touchdown pass from Charlie Frye to Darnell Dinkins.

--PR Dennis Northcutt was clobbered a split-second before fielding a punt, resulting in a penalty on the Raiders. He returned the next punt 58 yards to set up a five-yard touchdown pass to Joe Jurevicius.

--WR Joe Jurevicius missed two games with a rib injury. He returned against the Raiders and caught three passes for 22 yards. His third reception was the go-ahead touchdown catch.

--Rookie LB Kamerion Wimbley sacked Andrew Walter twice. He has three sacks on the season.


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