CLEVELAND — Chris Owens’ bid to win the starting cornerback spot opposite Joe Haden hit a bump in the road.
Owens was slated to start Thursday night vs. the Rams in the preseason opener but was a surprise scratch with a foot injury. He took the first-team repetitions in practice Wednesday and appeared fine. He isn’t expected to miss much time.
Buster Skrine, who’s battling Owens for the starting job, opened in his place. Skrine recovered a fumble forced by defensive lineman Phil Taylor and broke up a Sam Bradford pass.
Owens and Skrine spent much of the first two weeks of training camp taking turns with the first team. When the defense goes to its nickel package, both are on the field.
“I love it. It’s really good competition,” Haden said Wednesday after practice. “It’s bringing the best out of both of them.
“It’s so good because you could tell when C.O. does a good play, Buster’s just looking and Buster comes out there … both of them are super competitive and both of them are playing at the top of their games. When someone makes a play it almost seems like the other one comes back and makes a play. Really good competition is good.”
Owens (5-foot-9, 180 pounds) signed a one-year contract in the offseason after four years with Atlanta. He started 12 games with three career interceptions.
Skrine (5-9, 185) was a fifth-round pick in 2011 and has started six of 32 games. He has an interception and 83 tackles.
“It would definitely be hard,” Haden said of picking a starter between Owens and Skrine. “They look the same to me. Both of them are making plays and I love it.”
The other candidate in the mix is rookie third-round pick Leon McFadden (5-9, 195).
He started camp slowly but had been improving before injuring a groin muscle Tuesday. He didn’t practice Wednesday and was inactive Thursday.
“He’s coming along well,” Haden said. “It’s a lot, definitely, because I know when I came in at corner and they had me doing corner and nickel trying to learn two positions at one time. And just the game moving a whole lot faster.
“He’s adapting really well. He’s taking coaching. He’s putting his best foot forward. He’s working hard and hopefully we’ll get him back really soon.”
First-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo didn’t start on defense but was active in his NFL debut, including a sack that was taken away when the Browns accepted a penalty.
The No. 6 overall pick made the tackle on the Browns’ first kickoff and was the first down the field on another. He added a block downfield that allowed Travis Benjamin to finish his 91-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Mingo played one snap with the starting defense in a nickel package. The Browns used their top four outside linebackers — Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, Mingo and Quentin Groves — and Mingo was part of the pass rush that didn’t get to Bradford in time.
Mingo played right outside linebacker with the second-team defense and registered a quarterback hit. In addition to the nullified sack, he barely missed another.
With strong safety T.J. Ward (hamstring) inactive, Johnson Bademosi got the start.
He’s in his second season after being undrafted out of Stanford and was switched from cornerback to safety in the offseason. He’s spent time at free and strong safety and is the backup at both spots.
• Jason Pinkston started at right guard in place of Shawn Lauvao, who injured his ankle Monday. Coach Rob Chudzinski didn’t have an update on Lauvao on Wednesday, which isn’t a good sign.
• Running back Dion Lewis, acquired in an offseason trade for linebacker Emmanuel Acho, started in place of Trent Richardson.
Richardson has a sore shin, but Chudzinski said he and Ward would’ve played if it were the regular season. Richardson ran on the field before the game.
• Running back Chris Ogbonnaya was introduced with the starters and opened at fullback. He also saw time at tailback. He was a seventh-round draft pick by the Rams in 2009.
• With the injuries to Owens and McFadden, Trevin Wade opened as the nickelback and played a lot. He moved outside with the second-team defense and gave up a 59-yard post from Bradford to Chris Givens.
Also inactive for the Browns, as expected, were: receiver David Nelson (knee), running back Montario Hardesty (hamstring tendon), rookie safety Jamoris Slaughter (hamstring), fullback Brock Bolen (calf), tight end Brad Smelley (hamstring), offensive linemen Ryan Miller (concussion), Oniel Cousins (ankle) and Chris Faulk (knee) and rookie defensive lineman Dave Kruger (concussion).
Owner Jimmy Haslam was on the sideline before the game and visited with defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
• Horton and offensive coordinator Norv Turner will call games from the pressbox this season.
• Linebackers D’Qwell Jackson and Quentin Groves and left tackle Joe Thomas were the captains for the coin toss.
• The Rams entered Thursday with a 14-12-1 lead in the preseason series with the Browns.
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