Browns notebook: Joel Bitonio’s mid-foot injury latest blow to team, surgery is possibility
BEREA: If the Browns could win as frequently as their key players get hurt, they would be a powerhouse by now.
The team took another devastating loss when left guard Joel Bitonio suffered a mid-foot injury in Sunday’s 33-13 loss to the New England Patriots that will force him to miss an extended period of time, a Browns spokesman said Wednesday.
“[The medical staff is] calling it a mid-foot sprain,” coach Hue Jackson said later. “We know he is going to miss some time, obviously, but nothing has been totally decided. That is a tough blow to our team.”
Fourteen notable contributors have missed or will miss multiple games this season. Including Bitonio, as many as nine starters could be out for the Browns (0-5) when they visit the Tennessee Titans (2-3) on Sunday. And that’s assuming no one gets hurt in practice this week.
“You guys want me to say, ‘I give. I quit,’?” Jackson said, reflecting on the bad luck. “That is not going to happen. I think you guys know me. I’m built for this. I’m just telling you, I’m built for this, and I think our team is. It is not easy.
“I’m not going to sit up here and tell you, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is great!’ No, it is not, but at the same time, what do you guys want me to do? We are going to keep working. We are going to keep coaching and keep getting these guys better. We are not going to make excuses.”
Jackson said the organization’s sports science staff is just as surprised as the coaches about the bevy of injuries.
Bitonio’s setback was stunning because there were no obvious signs of injury. He played all 63 snaps against the Patriots. Jackson said surgery is a possibility.
“He’s been playing really well obviously,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “He’s one of the best guards in the NFL in my opinion. If you lose that type of guy, he’s tough to replace.”
Bitonio, 25, has started all 31 games in which he’s appeared since the Browns drafted him in the second round in 2014. He suffered two ankle injuries last season that forced him to miss six of 16 games. He started all 16 games as a rookie.
ProFootballFocus.com ranked 72 guards this season, and Bitonio is tied for No. 9 on the list.
O-line in flux
So what will the starting offensive line look like with Bitonio out?
It depends on the health of center Cameron Erving, who practiced on a limited basis Wednesday for the first time since he suffered a bruised lung Sept. 18 against the Baltimore Ravens.
If Erving can play, John Greco would return to right guard and Alvin Bailey would likely replace Bitonio at left guard. Greco usually plays right guard, but he has been filling in at center with Erving out. Bailey, meanwhile, has been playing in Greco’s spot at right guard.
If Erving can’t play, Anthony Fabiano could be promoted from the practice squad to play center with Greco at Bailey at the guard positions. The Browns re-signed Fabiano to the practice squad Wednesday. He spent the first four weeks of the season on the practice squad and was active but not play Sunday.
“We will see,” Jackson said when asked if Fabiano is in the mix at center. “I won’t know more about Cam until after I get with the medical staff after practice and see how he fared. He was there, practiced the plays we asked him to practice and did a good job. So hopefully that will be a non-issue as we move through the week.”
Greco is always a candidate to moonlight at center. Other candidates to play guard are rookie fifth-round draft pick Spencer Drango and Jonathan Cooper, the seventh overall selection in 2013 whom the Browns claimed off waivers from the New England Patriots on Monday.
It may take some time to get Cooper up to speed, but the Browns definitely think it’s worth giving him a good look.
“Why not?” Jackson said. “This guy was a former first-round draft pick who has had some success and some things did not work out. So it gives him another opportunity to try to revive his career.”
Former Baylor football coach Art Briles is spending time with the Browns as a guest of Jackson and helping the coaching staff with the offense.
Ousted from Baylor this past summer amid the football program’s sexual assault scandal, Briles wore Browns gear and watched the quarterbacks during Wednesday’s practice.
Jackson defended his controversial guest.
“I have gotten to know coach Briles,” Jackson said. “He is a tremendous offensive-minded football coach. I’m always looking at different ways of doing things and preparing things. What happened at Baylor is at Baylor. ... I think everybody deserves an opportunity to kind of do what they do. I respect everybody’s feelings and I don’t condone anything or not, but that is not for me to judge. The opportunity to pick his brain and to have him be around and talk to him and get to know him outside of all of that in a different capacity was what was important to me.
“I have been unfairly judged before and judged correctly, too. I try not to do that with people. I try to take people for face value and who they are and what they are. I just know I have met him and have talked to him extensively, and I think, again, whatever has happened at Baylor, I am not condoning or him being here says that we condone anything. I have talked this through with our upper management because I asked, Is it OK for him to be here with me as my guest, and I got the OK.”
Jackson said Briles won’t be with the Browns for a long time.
Briles visited the Browns during training camp and chatted with his former Baylor players who are on the team: Drango, quarterback Robert Griffin III, who’s on injured reserve, rookie wide receiver Corey Coleman and suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon.
•?In addition to Bitonio, Thomas (knee), Coleman (broken right hand), defensive lineman Xavier Cooper (shoulder) and tight ends Randall Telfer (right high-ankle sprain) and Seth DeValve (knee) did not practice Wednesday.
•?Jackson expects Thomas to play Sunday. “If I know Joe Thomas, he is going to be ready to play,” Jackson said. “So he will be fine.”
•?In addition to Erving, quarterbacks Cody Kessler (chest/ribs) and Josh McCown (fractured left collarbone), tight end Gary Barnidge (forearm/hip) and cornerback Tramon Williams (shoulder) were limited in practice.
•?Jackson said Coleman would have follow-up X-rays on his hand this week or early next week. Coleman suffered the injury in practice Sept. 21. “Hopefully we will get him back out here soon,” Jackson said.
• Rookie defensive end Carl Nassib (surgically repaired broken left hand) fully participated in practice.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.