BEREA – The opener was a disaster for Oniel Cousins. The journeyman right tackle started at right guard for just the second time in his six-year career and was exposed by a powerful Dolphins front four.
Cousins was penalized Sunday for illegal hands to the face, two holds and a false start. One flag negated an 18-yard completion in the second quarter and another wiped out a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The misery didn’t end there. According to profootballfocus.com, he gave up two sacks, three hurries and graded poorly as a run blocker.
Despite the brutal day and harsh criticism that followed, Cousins was one of a handful of players who entered the locker room Monday during the 45 minutes open to the media.
“No excuses,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity. I’m a physical guy. At the guard position, you’ve got to be physical, and I like it.
“I’m getting more comfortable every day and I love it. At the end of the day, you just want to be on the field, participate, be a part of a great victory and show the team that you can be out there and help them win games.”
Cousins started his sixth career game in the 23-10 loss to Miami. He was originally slated to be the backup right tackle, but moved into the starting spot inside when Shawn Lauvao and Jason Pinkston suffered ankle injuries in August. Pinkston is out for at least eight games, but Lauvao could return in the next couple of weeks.
Until then, Cousins isn’t going anywhere. The coaches believe he’s a better option than seventh-round rookie Garrett Gilkey, who went to Division II Chadron State.
“Oniel has gotten the majority of the reps and so it’s important, the guy who’s getting the reps gives you the best chance,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “I’m confident he’ll improve.”
Cousins spent the first three years of his career in Baltimore and has a plan to get better before the Browns visit the Ravens on Sunday. He appreciates the support of the coaching staff.
“It’s great they believe in me. I believe in myself,” he said. “I watched the tape and I know what I need to improve on. I’m going to continue to grind whether it’s going out there and taking 100 reps by myself or working after practice because that’s the most important thing, just to get better.
“I’m just going to continue to tighten up my technique.”
Cousins wasn’t alone in his poor performance on the line. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz was beaten repeatedly by Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake, who finished with 2.5 sacks and three quarterback hits. Quarterback Brandon Weeden was sacked six times and hit 16.
“There are some scheme things that we can do and we will do,” Chudzinski said of fixing the protection problem. “Also, it’s a matter of execution, whether it’s chips and some things we had planned and we just didn’t execute it well enough. We’ll get those things straightened out.”
TOUCHES FOR TRENT
Running back Trent Richardson carried four times for 26 yards on Cleveland’s first possession of the season. He finished with 13 carries for 47 yards (3.6 average) and two catches for 30 yards in six targets.
The effectiveness of the running game diminished after the first series and coordinator Norv Turner went away from it, even though the Browns didn’t trail by more than six points until 6:48 remained in the game.
“Trent’s a critical part of our offense. We want to give him the ball as much as we can,” Chudzinski said. “The real key is we have to convert on third down and we’ll get plenty more opportunities to get him the ball.
“And they tightened up a little bit against the run when we got into the third quarter as well.”
Richardson was replaced by fullback Chris Ogbonnaya in most obvious passing situations.
“We want to make sure that he stays fresh as well and that’s part of the plan,” Chudzinski said.
Richardson had the chance for a long gainer on a screen pass early in the fourth quarter, but pressure from Wake sabotaged the play. Center Alex Mack appeared to flinch before the snap, which allowed Wake to get a great jump, get around Schwartz and force Weeden to misfire before Richardson had cleared from the offensive linemen.
“As you look at the game, there’s a few plays that can go either way and that was going to be a big play,” Chudzinski said. “It was a good call. They had the perfect defense on for us to execute it. We just need to sink back and if Brandon can just have a little bit more time to get a little better ball to Trent and give him a chance to catch it, we were off to the races.”
One of the biggest bright spots in the ugly loss was defensive end Desmond Bryant, who signed a five-year, $34 million contract as a free agent in March. Bryant had two sacks, two quarterback hits, three tackles and a pass defensed.
“I thought he really had a strong game,” Chudzinski said. “He had two sacks. He did a great job on the run. I really, really was pleased with what he did.”
Bryant missed much of the preseason with back spasms and was limited in practice last week.
“He just had back spasms and it was just something we had to work through and felt like it wasn’t going to be any long-term thing,” Chudzinski said.
TAKE A KNEE
Bobby Rainey was claimed off waivers on Sept. 1 and a week later he was the primary kick returner. He’s got some work to do.
Rainey returned four kicks for 103 yards (25.8 average) with a long of 33.
The coaches felt he should’ve settled for a touchback when he returned one 21 yards to the 14-yard.
“I thought I had a good feel for it,” he said. “But we still had an opportunity to make a play out of it, but we didn’t. It’s something I got to adjust to, coming from Baltimore, we were bringing the ball out. That’s fine. It’s no big issue.”
Rainey said coordinator Chris Tabor doesn’t have a hard-and-fast rule when to take a touchback, but if he has to go back to catch it or the ball is deep and has good hang time, he should take a knee.
“More reps in practice and it’s something that will come natural,” Rainey said.
Travis Benjamin replaced Rainey for one kickoff, which bounced out of the end zone for a touchback. Rainey said that was part of the pregame plan and he expects to be the main kickoff returner again next week.
“I don’t see why not,” he said. “But it’s the coach’s call, I can’t control that.”
Chudzinski said strong safety T.J. Ward will get treatment on his shoulder. He missed a series Sunday but returned.
“We’ll see how he is on Wednesday,” Chudzinski said.
Benjamin, who started at receiver, had his leg heavily wrapped in the trainer’s room after the game, but Chudzinski said there were “nicks, nothing major” when describing other injuries besides Ward’s.
Chudzinski didn’t provide updates on defensive end Ahtyba Rubin (calf), rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (bruised lung) or Lauvao, who were inactive Sunday.