BEREA — Sheldon Brown is a proud man who believes in his ability.
He also prides himself on being a team-first guy.
So despite being demoted from a starting role he’s held since 2004 — first in Philadelphia and for two-plus years in Cleveland — Brown didn’t criticize the front office or coaching staff. He’s accepted his reduced role, which Sunday against Buffalo will be as the No. 3 cornerback.
“Whatever they choose to do, let them do it,” he said Thursday. “I’m not going to be a distraction, I never will be a distraction. I have too much respect for (general manager) Tom Heckert and (coach) Pat Shurmur. So it is what it is.
“I’m here to help this team. If that’s in a mentoring role, I’m here to help mentor. And I have no problem with doing that. I’m willing to do anything they ask without ruffling any feathers.”
Brown, 33, started the opener but suffered a neck stinger in the first quarter, left the game and didn’t return. Buster Skrine, a fifth-round pick in 2011, replaced him and fared well.
Brown said he was medically cleared to play Sunday in Cincinnati, but the coaches were concerned about another direct hit to the neck so soon.
“We entered that week being told that Sheldon would be very limited through the week and for the game,” coordinator Dick Jauron said. “We took that approach into the game and tried to limit his exposure to any more injuries.”
Brown doesn’t concede anything to anyone or anything, and he insisted the injury didn’t prevent him from playing against the Bengals.
“Maybe they were protecting me, I don’t know,” he said of the coaches. “I’m just telling you that I did what I had to do through the week to be ready to play and I thought I could play.”
Brown dressed as the fourth cornerback and played one snap to extend his consecutive-games streak to 162 to start his career.
“I could care less about that,” Brown said. “That doesn’t mean nothing.”
Dimitri Patterson and Skrine started against the Bengals and rookie seventh-rounder Trevin Wade was the nickelback. The position was already short-handed by the four-game suspension of No. 1 corner Joe Haden, which started last week.
Patterson gave up a 10-yard touchdown to A.J. Green but was solid overall. Skrine, making his first NFL start, allowed completions, missed several tackles and was called for pass interference. Wade allowed a third-down completion that turned into a 50-yard touchdown.
The poor performance of the secondary was a huge factor in the 34-27 loss and Shurmur said he’s searching for the right combination.
“I’m confident we’re going to improve on what we did,” he said. “We’ll just keep tweaking it until we get the guys out there that kind of get the thing right for us.”
Skrine and Patterson will start again against Buffalo, with Brown taking over outside against three-receiver sets and Patterson sliding into the slot. The Bills use a spread formation, so Brown should see plenty of time.
“He’s looking forward to helping this team win games,” said Shurmur, who downplayed the demotion.
“I guess it all depends who’s up and down for them or how we feel when we get up the day of the game,” Brown said of his role. “I’m ready to play, whatever I got to do.”
Not many cornerbacks start into their 30s, and Brown has been hearing whispers about his advancing age and slowing speed for years. He understands the move to Skrine, who’s 10 years younger and arguably the fastest guy on the team.
“Eventually people have to go out there and show what they can do,” Brown said. “Buster is one of my favorites of all time. From Day 1 he always listened, he wanted to learn. He’ll be a great pro, he’ll bounce back.
“My message to him is one game don’t define you. You can’t define your career until it’s over. So it’s over and done with, move onto the next week. You get you a pick, break up a couple passes and you’re a hero again.”
Skrine attributed part of his sloppy first start to losing his footing coming out of breaks. He blamed his choice of cleats and added that he needs to clean up the footwork.
“It wasn’t how I wanted it to be, but that’s why I’m back here practicing hard this week so I can have a better start next game,” he said. “I never lose confidence in myself. Throughout the game, sometimes you play well, sometimes you play bad. You just have to come back strong the next time.”
He appreciates the decision to keep him in the starting lineup.
“It definitely shows my coaches have a lot of trust in me, they’re confident in me,” he said. “So I’m definitely confident going out there.”
Jauron called Skrine a “work in progress” but reiterated how the staff likes his potential.
“He’s a very competitive, very tough guy,” Jauron said. “He learned a good deal in that game that will help him in the long run. It was just painful for him and us at times in the short run. He also made some good plays in that football game, but gave up some.”
The roles for Skrine and Brown could change upon Haden’s return and based on performance. Brown is ready for whatever that entails.
“Football’s not hard. When you’re asked to do something, you go out and do it,” he said. “It’s whatever they want to do. It’s their call, they have the keys, they get to crank it, they get to paint it the color they want, put the wheels on it.”