BEREA — Browns kicker Phil Dawson stepped off the practice field Thursday and stepped into a Hawaiian paradise.
In honor of Dawson being named to his first NFL Pro Bowl, Cleveland linebacker D’Qwell Jackson had his locker decorated with images of the islands — including flowered leis, palm trees, hula skirts, tiki masks, flamingos, and parrots.
“It’s been a fun day, being able to share this with my teammates, the coaches and the equipment guys,” a beaming Dawson said. “It’s really fun to see everyone excited. I wouldn’t want it any other way because without all of them, I wouldn’t be in this position right now.”
Browns tackle Joe Thomas also was voted onto the AFC roster for the Jan. 27 game in Honolulu, Hawaii, marking his sixth selection in six pro seasons, but the focus of the team was fixed on its 37-year-old kicker.
“Setting up the locker that way was just a small gesture we did to show our appreciation for Phil,” Jackson said. “He’s been through a lot of ups and a lot of downs with this organization, and for a guy like that to get that recognition from his peers, it’s a great honor and it goes to a great guy.”
Dawson also was recognized by the Cleveland chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America with its Player of the Year Award. He leads the NFL with a .966 field goal percentage (28-of-29), is 6-of-6 on tries from 50-plus yards, and has scored a team-high 112 points.
Jackson received the PFWA chapter’s Dino Lucarelli Good Guy Award, which is given to the player who best carries himself in the community and is most accessible to the media. The Browns’ defensive captain owns a team-best 114 tackles and is a first-alternate for the Pro Bowl.
“It means a lot to me because I want to give you guys as much information as I can, as I’m allowed to,” Jackson said. “We’re all working for a common goal here, and it’s great to be acknowledged with it as a good guy.”
Dawson and Jackson happily posed for photos in front of the Hawaiian scene, which led to more good-natured ribbing from their teammates. No Cleveland players, however, confessed to planting the photo of the Texas native’s head on top of a hula dancer’s body.
“When you’ve been in the league for 14 years, it’s kind of neat to be doing something for the first time,” Dawson said. “When we get to Hawaii, I’ll be carrying Joe Thomas’ bags around, doing whatever he needs all week.
“It will be fun being a rookie again, especially at my age.”
|Browns quarterbacks Brandon Weeden (right shoulder sprain) and Colt McCoy (right shoulder sprain) did not practice, making it a virtual certainty that third-stringer Thaddeus Lewis will start Sunday at Pittsburgh. Lewis has never taken a snap in an NFL regular season game, but has been in the league since 2010.
Former Buccaneers quarterback Josh Johnson, who was signed Wednesday, would be Lewis’ backup. Coach Pat Shurmur said the team considered bringing back ex-Cleveland signalcaller Seneca Wallace, but “We decided to go with Josh.”
Also not practicing were running back Trent Richardson (ankle), tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion) and cornerback Sheldon Brown (concussion, foot).
Shurmur confirmed that Montario Hardesty, Brandon Jackson and Chris Ogbonnaya will all be active if Richardson is out.
Limited at practice were wide receiver Joshua Cribbs (knee), tackle Joe Thomas (back), defensive ends Frostee Rucker (shoulder, hamstring) and Juqua Parker (knee) and defensive end Ishmaa’ily Kitchen (calf).
l For the Steelers, tackle Mike Adams (ankle), cornerbacks Curtis Brown (ankle) and Keenan Lewis (knee), wide receiver Mike Wallace (hip) and safety Troy Polamalu (personal reasons) did not practice.
Linebacker Marshall McFadden (abdomen) is limited, while guard David DeCastro (hamstring) took part in all team activities.
The other Big Ben
|Browns tight end Benjamin Watson, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, said he plans on continuing his NFL career.
Watson signed a three-year contract with Cleveland in 2010 — leaving the New England Patriots — and has 147 receptions and eight touchdowns in 44 games with the Browns.
“I enjoyed myself here, I enjoyed being in the locker room with these guys, and I enjoy the city,” the 32-year-old said. “My only regret is that I wasn’t able to bring more winning here. It’s pretty much been the same, five wins every year. I just wish I could have been part of turning it around in a positive way.”
With young tight ends Cameron and Brad Smelley on Cleveland’s roster, Watson sees the handwriting on the wall for his exit, but isn’t concerned about his second foray into unrestricted free agency.
“I’m in a better place mentally about it,” he said. “There is that uncertainty and you’d like to know — we’re having a baby in March — and you’d like to have some certainty. But life is uncertain, so you deal with every day the best you can.”
|Browns safety T.J. Ward said he will not require surgery on his injured knee. The third-year pro was hurt on a sideline collision with Redskins running back Alfred Morris on Dec. 16.
“I’ll be good in the next week or two, but it’s positive news any time you don’t need surgery,” said Ward, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve Dec. 18. “Injuries are going to come when they come, but I’m relieved this was just a bone bruise and nothing more serious.”
Ward added that he could have played next week if Cleveland had qualified for the playoffs, but agreed with the team’s decision to place him on IR. He also remains confident in the franchise’s future — and the role he will play in it.
“We’re going to get it turned around — no doubt about that,” Ward said. “I love being a Brown. I love my teammates. I love the city. I’d love to be here for years to come.”
|Spiro Dedes and Steve Beuerlein will call the Browns/Steelers game on CBS. It is only slated to air on the network’s affiliates in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
l The Browns/Broncos contest was the most-watched television show in Greater Cleveland last week, but the league did not release its rating or share.
l Cleveland’s 2013 schedule, including its annual home-and-home series with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore, is now set. Specific game dates won’t be announced by the NFL until April.
The Browns will host Buffalo, Miami, Chicago, Detroit and Jacksonville. They will travel to New England, the New York Jets, Green Bay, Minnesota and Kansas City.
Quote of the day
|“They’re both not practicing and they both have the same injury. It’s between the Chiclets and the pencils. What was that movie? ‘The Jerk?’” — Browns coach Pat Shurmur, discussing the status of quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy.|
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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