BEREA – The broken fibula of running back Dion Lewis created a hole at kickoff returner.
Travis Benjamin is ready to fill it.
Benjamin, already slotted to return punts and be the fourth receiver, said Thursday he wants and expects to return kickoffs when the season opens Sept. 8 against Miami.
“Yes, I’m very excited,” he said.
Benjamin is only 5-foot-10, 175 pounds but said he’s not worried about wearing himself thin or the extra punishment possible on kickoff returns.
“Not at all,” he said. “It’s extra plays for me.”
Benjamin returned three kickoffs as a rookie in 2012, averaging 25.3. He averaged 49.7 yards with a touchdown on three punt returns. He already has a punt return for a touchdown and another called back by penalty in two preseason games.
The other candidates to return kickoffs are safety Johnson Bademosi and cornerback Buster Skrine.
“I feel comfortable that we have Travis,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “I would really like to see the other guys, including Bademosi. Buster Skrine has done it before and has been effective, as well.”
Chudzinski admits Benjamin would be susceptible to bigger hits on kickoffs, but isn’t afraid to use him there.
“We are going to try to put the best guys out on the field in those situations to go win the game,” he said. “If Travis happens to be the best guy in that situation, we will do it at that time.”
“You can get hit harder on offense,” Benjamin said.
Bademosi said he has a little experience returning kicks and is trying to emulate the vision, catching and explosion through gaps of Joshua Cribbs, who left in free agency.
“I’m getting better every day,” Bademosi said.
Oniel Cousins has played one game at guard in five years in the NFL, but will start at right guard Saturday night in Indianapolis. Rookie Garrett Gilkey, a seventh-round pick, will also get snaps with the starters.
The coaches are looking for a reliable fill-in while Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston recover from ankle injuries. They are expected to miss the first couple games of the regular season.
“Oniel has more experience,” Chudzinski said when asked why Cousins will start ahead of Gilkey. “He has done well. We will just see how the game goes and try to get them a lot of reps.”
Cousins (6-4, 315) has spent most of his career at right tackle and said the transition inside hasn’t been too rough. He missed the first two preseason games with an ankle injury.
“I’m getting more comfortable every day,” he said. “We’ve got a great bunch of guys helping me out. I’m confident, and I’m just gonna go out there and do my best, do everything in my power to help this team win the game.”
Gilkey, who went to Division II Chadron State, replaced Pinkston with the starters against the Lions last week and had ups and downs. He said he wasn’t discouraged by Cousins moving ahead of him on the depth chart and feels he’s still competing for a starting spot.
“I recognize that I’m a very young player coming from a very small school and I need the experience, I need the time to develop,” Gilkey said.
Defensive lineman Desmond Bryant (back spasms) and kicker Brandon Bogotay (groin) won’t play against the Colts, Chudzinski said. They haven’t practiced all week.
Bryant has been bothered by back spasms early and late in training camp and will be replaced in the starting lineup by Billy Winn.
“This is just a good time to rest him,” Chudzinski said. “He has got a lot of good work in. He will be ready for the first game, no concerns with that.”
Bryant said he’s had back trouble for years but has never missed a game because of them. He was asked about being ready for Week 1.
“I think that’s realistic, but I can’t say one way or another,” he said. “I’m going to get as much treatment as possible and as soon as I’m ready to go I will be out there.”
** Rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (bruised lung) rode the stationary bike for part of practice. He had been limited to watching since being hurt Aug. 15. He won’t play Saturday.
** Cornerback Trevin Wade (shoulder) didn’t practice and is out for the game.
PLAYING IT SAFE
Cornerback Chris Owens (foot), receiver Davone Bess (knee) and outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard (knee) didn’t practice for the second straight day. They were listed as questionable for Saturday by Chudzinski, but aren’t expected to play.
“They would be fine in a regular-season game,” Chudzinski said.
Skrine will start for Owens, and third-round pick Leon McFadden will play with the first team in nickel situations. Quentin Groves steps in for Sheard, and Benjamin and Josh Cooper will see snaps in the slot in place of Bess.
Owens missed the preseason opener with an arch strain, played in the second game, then the pain returned. He said he’d never had the injury before but it’s been nagging him. He’s in competition for a starting spot with Skrine.
“I’ll be ready Week 1, for sure,” Owens said. “If I had no foot I’d be ready to go Week 1.”
Chudzinski said Bess has a little bit of tendinitis. Sheard said he was “nicked up” in practice and it’s nothing serious.
“Just out there banging with those big guys, man, you get nicked up in the trenches,” Sheard said. “I’m just taking it day-to-day, just trying to see how I feel. I want to be 100 percent.”
** Receiver Jordan Norwood (hamstring) returned to practice but is unlikely to play vs. the Colts.
Punter T.J. Conley was waived. He missed the second preseason game with a groin strain.
Spencer Lanning remains as the lone punter on the roster but isn’t guaranteed the job for the regular season. The Browns will keep an eye on the waiver wire to see who’s cut by other teams.
Lanning has punted eight times in two preseason games with a 45.8-yard average, 39.0 net, two touchbacks and three inside the 20-yard line. Since 2001 he’s spent time in training camp with the Bears, Browns and Jets but has never kicked in a regular-season game.
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