September 30, 2014

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Browns notes: Linebacker L.J. Fort flashing his stuff

Browns linebacker L.J. Fort takes a break during training camp. He has been a pleasant surprise for Cleveland while filling in for an injured D’Qwell Jackson. (AP photo.)

BEREA — Rookie linebacker L.J. Fort didn’t have any trouble identifying his welcome-to-the-NFL moment.

“When I saw Calvin Johnson run out, it hit me like, ‘I’m in the NFL,” he said Monday, referring to the Lions’ All-Pro receiver. “Then just being out there, being able to look down at your jersey and seeing the NFL logo, knowing that you fulfilled a dream you’ve worked to accomplish.”

Fort has been one of the surprises of training camp. He was undrafted out of Northern Iowa but spent Sunday and Monday as the first-team middle linebacker in the absence of D’Qwell Jackson (shoulder). With the lack of depth at the position, the season-ending injury to Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita’s three-game suspension to open the season, Fort is likely to make the regular-season roster.

He intercepted Colt McCoy late in practice Monday and coach Pat Shurmur complimented his work Friday in the preseason opener vs. Johnson and Detroit.

“When he started wearing his pads and playing the game for real, he showed me more,” Shurmur said. “He did a good job in his scrimmage snaps. He also did an outstanding job on special teams.”

Fort was credited with three tackles, including one for loss. He also had a solo tackle on special teams.

“My first game, it was intense. It was crazy,” he said. “It’s definitely gonna be one of the more memorable moments in my life, just playing in an NFL game for the first time. I was really extremely jittery, then after I got that first tackle out of the way, I just felt in a groove when I got to playing football.”

The performance moved him ahead of Benjamin Jacobs on the depth chart and gave him a chance to work with the starters. Special teams is crucial in determining which backup linebackers make the roster, and Fort said he’s working on first-team punt coverage, kickoff return and punt return.

“It’s definitely a great experience coming in as a rookie and getting a chance just to even practice with the ones,” Fort said. “It’s pretty sweet.”

Fort is 6-foot, 230 pounds and said his strength is moving in space and pass coverage.

“But I also come up and hit, too,” he said.

“He has very good instincts,” Shurmur said. “He’s got the right size, the skill and ability to play the position. He has kind of a powerful build, and you have to have good instincts to be a linebacker and play in three downs, and I think he has that.”

Jackson isn’t expected back by Thursday, so Fort will likely get the start in his second preseason game. It just happens to be against Green Bay at historic Lambeau Field.

“That’s gonna be so insane just to be able to line up against the Packers’ first string,” Fort said. “There’s not really any time to try to think about it. I’m thrown in the fire. I’m just gonna have to step up right then.

“I’ve been watching film on them. It’s just exciting even watching film. It just gets my adrenaline going. I think I’m ready to step up for the challenge.”

Backup battle

Offensive coordinator Brad Childress said it’s too early to tell who will win the backup quarterback competition between Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. McCoy started 13 games last season but has been replaced by rookie Brandon Weeden. Wallace, a career backup in his 10th season, started the final three games of 2011 when McCoy was out with a concussion.

“It’s still gotta get played out a little bit,” Childress said. “Those guys still have games that they’re gonna play here. Those guys get grades every day they walk in off the practice field, whether it’s for the walkthrough or whether it’s for the morning practice. It’s really a body of work.

“It’s gotta be somebody that is able to deal with limited reps and still be able to put things in play.”

Wallace said in June he didn’t think the team would keep both him and McCoy on the final roster. He’s not so sure now.

“Who knows? They can keep all three of us,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ll let them deal with that.”

All dressed up

Shurmur said he will decide at halftime Thursday whether to keep the starters in the game into the third quarter. He will not play Weeden any longer than the rest of the first-team offense to force-feed him snaps.

“I do think that if you mix up too many ones with twos, then the game gets a little sloppy at times, and I don’t want to do that,” Shurmur said.

The starters will likely see their most extensive action of the preseason against the Packers. The Eagles visit Cleveland Browns Stadium on Aug. 24 for the third preseason game — the usual “dress rehearsal” — and return Sept. 9 for the regular-season opener. Neither team wants to give away its secrets.

The coaching staffs of the Eagles and Browns are already familiar with each other. Shurmur spent 10 years coaching under Philadelphia’s Andy Reid, and Childress was with Reid for seven years.

“You can look into this third preseason game and how we’re going to do it way too much in my opinion, because there’s a certain amount of work that needs to get done in training camp and we’ll both get it done the way we see fit,” Shurmur said.

Injury report

For the second straight day 15 Browns missed practice with injuries. Shurmur didn’t provide updates, but said it was possible “a couple” could return today and play against Green Bay.

Receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (concussion) and defensive end Marcus Benard could be the couple. They participated in the afternoon walkthrough that contains no contact or running.

The rest of the injured list (with injury, if known): cornerback Dimitri Patterson (ankle), running back Trent Richardson (arthroscopic knee surgery), defensive tackle Scott Paxson (knee), receiver Travis Benjamin, linebacker Scott Fujita, tight end Jordan Cameron (back), tight end Benjamin Watson, linebacker Chris Gocong (Achilles), linebacker Jackson (shoulder), defensive end Frostee Rucker (knee), safety Usama Young, fullback Eddie Williams and defensive tackle Phil Taylor (torn pectoral).

Fujita didn’t attend the morning practice but watched the walkthrough with a black sleeve on his left leg.

Extra points

  • Montario Hardesty dropped a screen pass when he tried to catch it with one hand. “He’s a running back not a circus act, you have to use both hands,” Shurmur said.
  • Tight end Evan Moore and defensive end Emmanuel Stephens got into a shoving match. Moore later expressed his displeasure with a rough tackle by safety T.J. Ward. The crowd appreciated Ward’s intensity.
  • Practice drew 2,029 fans. The average attendance through 11 practices is 2,894.

Day 12 at Browns camp

  • NEWS OF THE DAY: Another day, another practice without 15 injured players. The Browns practiced in pads for the first time since Tuesday, and coach Pat Shurmur called it “one of those dog days” of training camp.
  • CAMPER OF THE DAY: Receiver Josh Cooper. The undrafted rookie is more than just a good friend of quarterback Brandon Weeden; he’s a legitimate contender to earn a roster spot. After a terrible first day of camp — he dropped several passes — he’s settled down, caught nearly everything and is making a push to be a reserve in the slot.
    Cooper, who had three catches for 24 yards in the preseason opener, caught a deep cross Monday from Seneca Wallace and a deep out from Colt McCoy.
  • PLAY OF THE DAY: Undrafted rookie L.J. Fort continued to flash with an interception of McCoy to end a drive by the second-team offense. Fort stepped in front of a McCoy pass on the goal line in the middle of the field and returned it past the 20-yard line. McCoy was hurried by a well-disguised blitz from cornerback James Dockery.
  • QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’m more comfortable now in trying to take that position of being a leader, so I can see myself having the younger guys run around and do a lot more stuff. They’re picking it up and listening to me. I’m happy about that.” — Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, who’s entering his fifth season.
  • POINT OF INTEREST: Rookie receiver Josh Gordon’s talent is obvious, but his motor doesn’t always run on high. For the second straight day, he was criticized for not finishing a deep route. On Sunday the coaching staff said something to him, and on Monday it was tight end Evan Moore.
  • TODAY’S SCHEDULE: 8:45-11:15 a.m. Hotline number: (877) 627-6967.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.