July 1, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Browns: Whittaker has solid showing

BEREA — Browns running back Foswhitt “Fozzy” Whittaker has one of the more entertaining nicknames in the NFL.

Based on his play Sunday at Green Bay, the University of Texas graduate also could have a bright future in the league.

Whittaker gained a team-high 127 all-purpose yards and saw his first professional action on offense — providing one of the few bright spots — in Cleveland’s 31-13 loss to the Packers.

“It was definitely a great opportunity being able to be on the field as much as I was,” the 5-foot-10, 202-pounder said Monday. “I appreciate the confidence that the coaches showed in me and I hope I can keep giving them a reason to put me out there.”

Whittaker averaged 34.3 yards on three kickoff returns, gained 11 yards on five rushing attempts and caught two passes for 13 yards at Lambeau Field.

Though running back Willis McGahee and fullback Chris Ogbonnaya are ahead of him on the Browns’ official depth chart, Whittaker appears capable of giving them a third option in the backfield. Dion Lewis was slated for that role until breaking his left leg on Aug. 15.

“I’ve actually watched a lot of Dion’s film from the preseason, learning the offense on my iPad,” said Whittaker, who signed with Cleveland on Sept. 30. “He’s a great back, but I think he’s a little more shiftier than I am. I run a little more direct, straight up the field, which the coaches call downhill.”

Whittaker spent the first three weeks of the season with the Chargers, strictly playing special teams before being released on Sept. 28. He averaged 26.0 yards on six kickoff returns, proving he was recovered from the major knee injury that caused him to go undrafted in 2012.

Since Browns fans love to root for an underdog, Whittaker has a good chance of becoming their next hero. Adding to his appeal, his nickname — given by older brother MacColumbus “Jer’ald” Whittaker — is a homage to Muppets star Fozzie Bear.

Not surprisingly, Whittaker is often greeted with Fozzie’s catchphrase, “Wocka Wocka.”

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that, but it’s something that I’ve definitely embraced,” he said while laughing. “How could you not? It’s cool.

“People send me pictures all the time with my face on Fozzie Bear’s body, things like that. I even bought two T-shirts with Fozzie Bear on them. I have fun with it and he’s kind of become my guy.”

Scary situation

Packers tight end Jermichael Finley remains in the intensive care unit of a Wisconsin hospital after being struck on the helmet by Browns safety Tashaun Gipson.

The 26-year-old Finley suffered a neck injury on the fourth-quarter play, but never lost feeling in his extremities. He previously suffered a concussion on Sept. 22 when Bengals safety George Iloka drilled him high.

“Thoughts and prayers going out to Jermichael,” Gipson wrote on his Twitter account. “Hoping for a speedy recovery. God bless, bro.”

Referee Jeff Triplette whistled a personal foul on Gipson for leading with his helmet, even though it was clear he used his shoulder to make contact on a ducking Finley.

Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski disagreed with the call and said the team has submitted the play to the NFL office for review.

“It’s tough to judge, particularly when an offensive guy is moving as well, but from my perspective, he led with the shoulder,” Chudzinski said. “I do understand, though, that the referees are doing everything they can to keep the game safe.”

Browns cornerback Buster Skrine agreed with his coach, pointing out that Gipson turned slightly to the side to avoid delivering a helmet-to-helmet hit. He added that Cleveland’s defensive backs are taught to hit low because it gives them the best chance to make the tackle.

“That was a legal hit, and Gipson actually gave him his back when he saw Finley going down,” Skrine said. “He wasn’t trying to hit Finley (in the head) at all, but that was one of those very difficult situations where both guys are going hard and there isn’t much you can do to avoid it.”

Injury update

Linebacker Quentin Groves (left ankle) said he hopes to play Sunday when the Browns play the undefeated Chiefs in Kansas City. He exited in the first half against Green Bay after only being on the field for seven plays.

Groves missed three games after suffering a high left ankle sprain Sept. 15 at Baltimore, but returned to action Oct. 13 against Detroit.

“I’m good and I’ll be back this week, God willing,” the special teams captain said. “I’m not sure if it’s a new injury or (the old one), but I talked to the doc today and we’ll see. But I should be fine, though.”

Groves is part of a four-man rotation at outside linebacker with first-round pick Barkevious Mingo and starters Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger.

The five-year veteran insisted he didn’t come back from his initial ankle injury too soon, even though Mingo and Kruger struggled badly with their additional workload.

“Nah, with ankles, if you feel good, you feel good,” Groves said. “Once you can go, you can go. I listened to the trainers and the coaches, so I didn’t by any means come rushing back.”

Double trouble

Chudzinski was not pleased with the performance of his wide receivers, singling out a first-quarter drop by Davone Bess and a fourth-quarter non-catch by Josh Gordon during his press conference.

Gordon and Bess both were targeted six times by quarterback Brandon Weeden in Green Bay, but only finished with two receptions apiece.

“Davone had to make those plays, and we have to have the mentality that we have to make that catch,” Chudzinski said. “Josh wants to be an elite receiver in this league, and those are the type of plays you have to make in order to be one.”

For the second straight game, Gordon didn’t disguise his displeasure with the team’s offense when it failed to make plays. However, Chudzinski said the second-year pro’s effort remained good.

“I didn’t sense that (he didn’t try his best) at all,” the coach said.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, at least three teams have contacted the Browns about acquiring the enigmatic Gordon before the Oct. 29 trade deadline.

Two franchises have made standing offers of a high draft pick and a player, but Cleveland CEO Joe Banner and general manager Michael Lombardi have resisted their overtures.

Revolving roster

The Browns claimed rookie cornerback Jordan Poyer off waivers from the Eagles. An All-American at Oregon State, the 6-foot, 191-pounder appeared in three games with Philadelphia after being chosen in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

As a senior, Poyer was a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player. He also was selected by the Florida Marlins in the 42nd round of the 2009 MLB Draft.

To make room for Poyer on their 53-man roster, cornerback Julian Posey was waived. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder made his Cleveland debut against the Packers by playing six special teams snaps.

Contact Brian Dulik at brisports@hotmail.com.