September 17, 2014

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Browns Notes: Rookie CB Justin Gilbert inactive for preseason opener with groin injury

Justin Gilbert

The Browns’ first draft pick, Justin Gilbert, sat out of the preseason opener because of groin injury. CHRONCILE FILE PHOTO

DETROIT — Rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert will have to wait at least another week for his first NFL action.

Veteran receiver Nate Burleson saved a lot of cash and his vocal cords.

Gilbert — drafted No. 8, 14 spots ahead of quarterback Johnny Manziel — didn’t dress Saturday night for the preseason opener because of a groin injury suffered last week. He’s had a strong training camp, but is listed behind veteran Buster Skrine on the depth chart.

Gilbert didn’t practice Thursday, spending time on the side with trainers. The next chance for him to play in a game will be Aug. 18 at the Washington Redskins.

Burleson was inactive after injuring his hamstring Wednesday in practice and sitting out Thursday. He was looking forward to his return to the Motor City, where he spent the last four seasons before being cut in February in a salary cap move.

“Man, I’m wracking my brain figuring out what celebration I’m going to do — because I’m going to get a fine,” Burleson told reporters in June at a charity softball game in Dearborn. “I’m going to get a fine, period. I’m going to go to my coach and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to get a fine. I’m going to do something crazy.’

“It’s going to be a little bit of an appreciation celebration to the fans and the city of Detroit. But it’s also going to be a poke in the back, saying, ‘You should have kept me because I’m still balling.’”

Burleson, 32, had only softened his stance when he talked to the Detroit News during the week before he was hurt.

“I’m going to talk a lot of crap, but I think there’s going to be a little bit of emotion tied into seeing the fans because I get a lot of appreciation from the fans still.”

Burleson started 38 games for the Lions, catching 194 passes for 2,083 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Injury report

Receiver/kick returner Travis Benjamin (knee) and free safety Tashaun Gipson (knee) were held out as the Browns took the cautious approach.

Benjamin missed the entire offseason after surgery last year to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. He returned for the start of camp, and the Browns are trying to manage his snaps.

Undrafted rookie receiver Taylor Gabriel took Benjamin’s spot returning kicks and punts.

Gipson suffered a knee sprain Aug. 1, missed a couple of practices and returned Tuesday. The knee bothered him again Thursday, as he consulted a trainer on the sideline and missed the end of practice.

Tight end Jordan Cameron (shoulder) and defensive end Billy Winn (abdomen) were also inactive. Jim Dray replaced Cameron in the starting lineup, Phil Taylor started for Winn and Poyer for Gipson.

The Browns were also without six players who didn’t make the trip north: outside linebacker Eric Martin (concussion), inside linebacker Darius Eubanks (shoulder) and offensive linemen Reid Fragel (lower leg), Randall Harris (knee), Alex Parsons (knee) and Nick McDonald (wrist).

Move on back

Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor isn’t a fan of the exhibition season experiment with extra points. Some inside the league — including Patriots coach Bill Belichick — feel the extra point has become automatic, so for the first two games it will be moved from the 2-yard line to the 15, making it a 33-yard kick.

“I would like to see it stay the same, but I’m more of a football purist,” Tabor said last week.

Tabor believes defenses would go harder trying to block a longer kick, possibly compromising player safety. He also thinks the fall and winter weather in cities like Cleveland and Chicago is being overlooked.

“The other day we came out here and it was a windy day where the wind was picking up pretty good right in your face,” he said. “That was not a chip shot, and that’s why I think for teams that are in cold weather it’s important for us to voice our opinions strongly about it.

“Kickers are talented — they’re going to make these kicks here in the preseason. It’s going to be in October, November and December — there’s not going to be anything that’s going to give you information on those kicks.”

While the fans are going for a beer and assuming the traditional extra point will split the uprights, Tabor frets.

“I’m still nervous because everyone does say it’s supposed to be automatic and then when it’s not you’re like, ‘Whoa, what happened?’” he said. “I’m still uptight about it.”

Press your luck

Rookie cornerback Pierre Desir, a fourth-round pick, initially struggled with the jump from tiny Lindenwood University, but spent the break between minicamp and training camp in Dallas working on his technique and trying to fix his flaws.

“I don’t know if he’s ever had to come out and practice like he has been asked to practice every day, and I don’t think he’s ever had to compete against the likes of the receivers that he’s seeing out here every day,” secondary coach Jeff Hafley said last week. “It’s a different game for him. So he had to learn how to play full speed, finish every play and that was new to him. But he certainly responded, and I think he’s done a really good job right now.”

Desir, who had 25 interceptions in 44 college games, played with the second-team defense Saturday and missed a tackle on his first attempt. His size (6-foot-2, 206 pounds) made him desirable to the Browns, who ask their cornerbacks to play a lot of press man coverage.

“I think he’s one of the more difficult guys of the corners to get off (of) when he presses a guy just with his length,” coach Mike Pettine said. “He’s gotten more patient. If you ask the receivers who the hardest guy is to get off press, they’ll probably say him.”

No camp leg needed

The Browns don’t have an extra kicker or punter in camp, but Tabor isn’t worried about wearing out the right legs of kicker Billy Cundiff and punter Spencer Lanning.

“I’m OK with it right now just because you have the JUGS machine, and I can tailor those guys to how many kicks they get throughout,” Tabor said. “You can manage practice. It also gives you an opportunity to have another cover player at a different position in to evaluate that might help out. I’m always for that.”

Extra points

  • Manziel’s debut was a national story. Sports Illustrated, USA Today and the Washington Post had reporters at the game.
  • Pro Bowl receiver Calvin Johnson, defensive end Ziggy Ansah and receiver TJ Jones were inactive for the Lions.
  • The Browns captains for the coin flip were quarterback Brian Hoyer, left tackle Joe Thomas, cornerback Joe Haden, linebacker Karlos Dansby and safety Donte Whitner.
  • The singer of the national anthem messed up a chunk of the song in the middle.

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

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