BEREA — Billy Cundiff resurrected his kicking career in Cleveland once, and is looking to do it again.
He’s also embracing replacing Browns legend Phil Dawson.
“I think it’s a good thing to come in after a guy who’s played at such a high level,” Cundiff said Wednesday. “The bar is set high. You’ve got to bring your game up.”
Cundiff, 33, practiced with the Browns for the first time after signing a one-year contract. He tried out against 23-year-old Giorgio Tavecchio on Tuesday, just five days before the opener.
Cundiff hasn’t kicked in a regular-season game since last fall with the Redskins. He was released after going 7-for-12 on field goals, and has never really recovered from a missed 32-yarder in the final seconds of the 2011 AFC championship game that cost the Ravens a chance at overtime and sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl.
“Nothing really got back on track,” Cundiff said. “But for me, I felt like I’ve continued to build on my skills. Obviously things didn’t work out the way I wanted to in the AFC championship game, but I think there’s a lot of things you can learn from that.”
The last time Cundiff was in the Browns locker room was a five-game stop in 2009, when Dawson was out with a calf injury. Cundiff, who had been out of the league for two years, went 6-for-6, was picked up by Baltimore and became a Pro Bowler in 2010.
“It obviously restarted my career. For my wife and I, we have very fond memories here,” Cundiff said. “This was a team that took a chance. So for me, I was very grateful.
“I felt like I really got on track toward reaching my potential as a kicker. That’s why I’m so excited to come back because of all the memories I have here.”
Cundiff knows what it’s like to replace Dawson for the short term. This situation has a little more gravity. Dawson left in free agency in March after 14 years as a fan favorite and the franchise record-holder with 305 field goals and an 84 percent conversion rate.
“I’m excited. Phil and I go way back,” Cundiff said. “He’s done a lot of great things on the field.
“I think around the league, the way things are going anyway, the expectations continue to rise regardless of what team you’re on. You just have to kick at a high level ’cause the skill level continues to increase.”
Dawson and Cundiff traded texts Tuesday night.
“He’s a great guy,” Cundiff said. “There’s obviously a lot to learn from what he’s done.”
No contact for Keke Rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo was kept out of contact drills during the half-hour of practice open to the media and was listed as limited on the injury report. His status for the opener Sunday against the Dolphins has yet to be determined.
“We’ll wait and see this week,” Chudzinski said.
CEO Joe Banner told the Akron Beacon Journal on Tuesday that Mingo will undergo further medical testing this week to determine whether he’ll play Sunday. Banner expected the team to know the status today or Friday.
Starters Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard are preparing for extra playing time if Mingo isn’t available to join the rotation that includes Quentin Groves.
Chudzinski was the offensive coordinator with the Panthers the last two years, and one of his former players gave him a poor performance review.
“The prior offensive coordinator really was positioning himself to just apply for that head coaching job,” Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith said Wednesday on a conference call with Seattle Seahawks reporters. “I think our offense suffered little bit because of that. At times, we got cute. We did things that weren’t necessarily us, like the under-utilizing of (running back) Mike Tolbert. But we’re out of that. The past is the past.”
A new year
The opener couldn’t have gone much worse for quarterback Brandon Weeden last year as a rookie. He was 12-for-35 for 118 yards with four interceptions in a 17-16 loss to the Eagles.
“Obviously it didn’t start well getting trapped under the flag, so I kind of keep my eyes open for those kind of things now,” he said, referring to being caught under a giant American flag at the start of the national anthem. “It started bad and I just didn’t play well. I remember that defense was fast.”
Weeden and Chudzinski feel the QB is on track for a better opener in his second year.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him,” Chudzinski said. “I think he’s come a long way and really improving as a player. He’s grabbed a hold of the offense. I’m really looking forward to seeing him out there on Sunday.”
Right guard Shawn Lauvao was the only Browns player who didn’t practice and was ruled out for Sunday. He had arthroscopic ankle surgery Aug. 9.
“He is still on schedule,” Chudzinski said. “We can just re-evaluate him next week.”
Jason Pinkston, Lauvao’s replacement, was placed on short-term injured reserve Tuesday with a high ankle sprain suffered Aug. 15. Chudzinski said he doesn’t need surgery, the Browns wanted to use the roster spot and he should provide a boost when he’s eligible to return to the lineup Week 9.
Oniel Cousins will start at right guard in the interim.
• Defensive end Desmond Bryant (back) was limited in practice. He was slowed by spasms for much of the preseason.
• Tight ends Jordan Cameron (groin) and Gary Barnidge (shoulder), receiver Davone Bess (knee), cornerback Chris Owens (foot), rookie offensive lineman Garrett Gilkey (shoulder), defensive lineman John Hughes (knee) and linebacker Eric Martin (foot) were full participants.
• Dolphins rookie defensive end Dion Jordan, the No. 3 pick, was a full participant in practice. He’s returning from offseason shoulder surgery and coach Joe Philbin said he’ll decide at the end of the week what role Jordan will play in the game.
The Browns added seven players to the roster after the mandatory cutdown Saturday to the 53-man limit. They claimed six off waivers and signed Cundiff. Running back Brandon Jackson and tight end Kellen Davis were veterans released in favor of undrafted rookies cut by other teams.
“First of all, we have a core group of guys,” Chudzinski said. “That group is the group we are going to lean on to win the game the most. We added some new guys. We’ll get those guys up to speed and have to get them ready to play in a short amount of time. Our coaches will do a great job with that. I have no problems with that at all. It gave us an opportunity to look at other guys that our scouts had pinpointed as potential guys to help us.”
Chudzinski is excited about having a defined roster.
“Now is the first time we really have our team together and are becoming a team,” he said. “This is our team.”
Chudzinski said recently added running backs Bobby Rainer and Dennis Johnson will join Johnson Bademosi and Travis Benjamin in the mix to return kickoffs.
• Receiver Josh Gordon made a brief stop in the locker room. He’s allowed to attend meetings, but can’t practice while serving a two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Chudzinski said Davone Bess and Benjamin would be co-starters and see plenty of playing time.
• Hall of Fame receiver Paul Warfield, who played for the Browns in 1964-69 and 1976-77, is getting a life-sized bronze statue outside the stadium at Warren G. Harding High School, where Warfield starred in football, basketball and track. The statue will be unveiled next Thursday at 6 p.m. during a ceremony in front of Mollenkopf Stadium. A dinner in the cafetorium at 7:15 is open to the community and tickets are $10. The project is funded solely by donations, which are being accepted through Warren Harding’s athletic department.
Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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