BEREA — A week ago, the Browns were loaded at outside linebacker.
At practice Wednesday, they were thin at the position that is critical in defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4 scheme.
That’s what happens when starter Jabaal Sheard and top draft pick Barkevious Mingo spend the afternoon watching from the sideline with towels rather than helmets covering their heads.
Sheard missed practice for the first time this preseason with a knee injury coach Rob Chudzinski referred to as “day-to-day” through a spokesman. Chudzinski didn’t mention the injury during his pre-practice news conference and it’s not known how Sheard was hurt Tuesday. It’s not believed to be serious.
Quentin Groves took the spot on the right side with the starters.
No one knows exactly what to make of Mingo’s bruised lung.
He said he felt great, but met with doctors Tuesday and had no idea when he would be able to return to the field.
“Everything is feeling good,” Mingo, second behind Sheard on the depth chart, said Wednesday. “Everyone is happy with the progress and now we’re just waiting to see what the doctors say so we can get back.”
Chudzinski had the same report.
“I don’t have an update other than that he has improved,” he said. “The timeline nobody really knows exactly. It is just a matter of how quickly his body heals.”
Mingo talked with reporters after taking a nap with his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame stretched across padded chairs in front of his locker. Nearly a week after spitting up blood and being short of breath during the second preseason game against the Lions on Thursday night, Mingo’s situation remained a mystery.
Bruised lungs are rare in football. Even more unusual is that Chudzinski and Mingo insist he didn’t suffer an injury to his ribs.
Mingo was kept in the Cleveland Clinic for two nights following the game.
“They just saw a little bruise in there and that was it,” he said.
Mingo still thinks the “freakish” injury occurred on the opening kickoff vs. the Lions, though he said he didn’t take a big hit. He doesn’t believe the lung was compromised heading into the game.
He said he’d never experienced shortness of breath or spit up blood before Thursday.
On Tuesday, the doctors told Mingo to rest, but he said he’s done a bit of running. He didn’t know the date of his next appointment.
He hasn’t been cleared, won’t play Saturday night against the Colts and is likely to miss the preseason finale Aug. 29. His status for the regular season remains up in the air.
“I’m listening to the doctors, listening to the coaches, that’s all I know,” Mingo said.
He was asked what kind of medical tests he’s been given.
“It’s a feel test,” he said. “It’s how you feel, and I’m feeling good.”
CEO Joe Banner said Monday it’s imperative the lung is 100 percent before Mingo returns to action to avoid further damage. But once it’s healed, he should be at no greater risk of another lung issue.
Mingo said it will be hard not to play Saturday, but added he hasn’t been frustrated by the uncertainty.
“As football players, we listen to our coaches and if they say we want you to run down there and hit that guy on the play, you go down there and hit the guy on the play,” he said. “If you’ve got to sit out for a couple weeks or whatever, you sit out and then you come out ready to go.”
Groves signed a two-year, $2.28 million deal as a free agent to rejoin Horton, his coordinator in Arizona. Groves has had a good camp rushing off the edge with the second-team defense and will likely open the game against the Colts in place of Sheard.
Groves has 29 starts in five seasons, including seven last year, but the Browns would prefer he comes off the bench during the season. That would mean Paul Kruger and Sheard are healthy. Mingo is also slated to be in the rotation.
“First of all, he is a good football player,” Horton said of Groves. “Second of all, I think he can help our team in ways that aren’t seen. He has a good perspective on football, on life, on pads, on practice.
“He adds fantastic depth on our first-, second- and third-down defense, and special teams. He has been one of our better leaders on our team.”
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