BEREA — Browns right guard Oniel Cousins isn’t taking anything for granted, especially his position on the first-team offensive line.
Cousins was shifted from his natural spot at right tackle after second-stringer Jason Pinkston (right high ankle sprain) joined starter Shawn Lauvao (left ankle surgery) on the shelf last week.
Though the 6-foot-4, 315-pounder drew good reviews for his work against Indianapolis, he is eager to show Cleveland’s coaches more of his skills Thursday in the preseason finale at Chicago.
“I’m having a blast playing guard, but I’m going to continue taking everything one day at a time,” Cousins said Tuesday. “The most important thing for me right now is going to my next meeting, working hard at my next practice, studying the best I can every night and going out and playing well against the Bears. If I do that, hopefully the coaches will like what I’m doing and keep putting me out there.”
The sixth-year pro doesn’t appear to have anything to worry about, as Browns coach Rob Chudzinski has declared Cousins the top candidate for the job.
Seventh-round pick Garrett Gilkey is listed as the co-starter on the team’s official depth chart, but all signs point toward Cleveland opening the regular season with Cousins between center Alex Mack and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz.
“You want to have some options, and Oniel moving from tackle to guard was one of the things we discussed when Jason went down,” Chudzinski said. “I’ve been pleased with how quickly he’s made the transition. It’s not been perfect and he’s got some work to do, but it seems like it’s working out pretty well.”
Cousins is entering his third season with the Browns after spending three years with the Baltimore Ravens. He only appeared in four games in 2011, but saw action in 14 games last fall, primarily in short-yardage situations.
With Schwartz entrenched at right tackle, the injuries to Lauvao and Pinkston might have provided Cousins with the most fortuitous break of his NFL career.
“Just knowing you’re a bigger part of the team and are trying to help them win games means a lot,” he said. “Being able to block for Trent (Richardson) and Brandon (Jackson) and all the other running backs is really exciting.”
Somewhat surprisingly, Cousins said moving inside the line hasn’t been a major adjustment. He was a four-year letterman at Texas-El Paso — swinging between left and right tackle — and only saw practice time at guard with Baltimore.
“Football is football,” he said. “If you’re a guard, you’re blocking guys on the line. If you’re a tackle, you’re doing the same thing. It comes down to learning the proper technique and getting comfortable with the guys you’re playing with.
“That’s always been the great thing about being with the Browns. Everyone works together here as a unit and is quick to help each other out.”
Chudzinski said he might play his starters for “10 to 12 reps” against the Bears, but won’t announce which players will have the night off until today.
Six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, for one, did not sound like he was eager to see action.
“I haven’t played in the fourth preseason game since 2008 or so, but every coach has his own philosophy,” he said. “To me, the fourth game is always about the twos and threes trying to make the team. The mindset isn’t about the Browns beating the Bears.”
Thomas added that he wouldn’t place any importance on Cleveland finishing the preseason at 3-1 or 2-2, depending on how it fares at Soldier Field.
“I’ve been on plenty of teams here that had good preseasons and didn’t play well in the regular season,” he said. “There is not a translation to what is going to happen in the regular season. I don’t know if you earn anything in the preseason, except for a job.”
Outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (bruised lung) engaged in some light running for the first time since being injured Aug. 15 against the Lions. There remains no timetable for his return.
• Defensive end Desmond Bryant (back spasms), cornerback Chris Owens (foot) and kicker Brandon Bogotay (groin) joined Mingo on the exercise bikes.
• Tight end Jordan Cameron (groin) was held out of practice with what Chudzinski termed “a slight groin problem.” Quarterback Jason Campbell (illness) and wide receiver Davone Bess (knee tendinitis) also were not on the field.
• Safety Jamoris Slaughter (groin), wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt (hamstring) and cornerback Trevin Wade (shoulder) remain sidelined.
Browns wide receivers Greg Little and Josh Gordon both pleaded not guilty to their open traffic cases in Cleveland Municipal Court. Their next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 10 at 9 a.m.
• Chicago leads its all-time preseason series with Cleveland 17-11. This is the 10th straight year the teams have played an exhibition game.
• NFL Network will air a replay of the Browns and Bears — featuring the broadcast of Chicago’s WFLD-TV 32 and announcers Sam Rosen and Jim Miller — on Sunday at 8 p.m.
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.