BEREA — When the Browns returned to practice late Sunday afternoon, cornerback Buster Skrine was the happiest man on the field.
The fourth-year pro had been sidelined with a broken right thumb that required surgery Aug. 18, but was cleared to resume football activities.
“I’ve been watching a lot of film, eating right and conditioning when I could, so I would be able to get right back in where I was,” Skrine said following the two-hour workout. “I’ll wear a small cast, but it’s not going to affect me at all. Don’t worry, I won’t miss a beat out here.”
Skrine suffered the injury during a one-on-one training camp drill, striking his thumb on the back of a teammate’s elbow. Once he learned the severity of the fracture, the 5-foot-9, 185-pounder immediately sought out Cleveland trainer Joe Sheehan.
“I was like, Joe, ‘How long is it going to take for me to get back?’ because I haven’t missed a (regular season) game yet — and I didn’t want to miss this one,” Skrine said. “He told me it shouldn’t be longer than two weeks, and he was right. The recovery of my thumb came back all the way.”
Browns coach Mike Pettine said he plans on using Skrine in a time-share — opposite Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden — with first-round pick Justin Gilbert.
Their competition for a starting spot was short-circuited because of Skrine’s injury, which led to Gilbert’s flaws being exposed by the Rams and Bears in preseason action.
“I think with Buster coming off an injury and Justin being a rookie, I don’t know if we want to give either one of them the entire game outside,” Pettine said. “There also are going to be times when we have all three of those guys out there. Because Buster also can play the nickel, we definitely have some available options there.”
Regardless of how Skrine winds up being used, he is just relieved knowing he will be on the field for the season opener Sept. 7 in Pittsburgh.
The Tennessee-Chattanooga product has appeared in all 48 games since being picked by Cleveland in the fifth round in the 2011 NFL Draft, which is a streak he hopes to continue well into the future.
“Playing with Sheldon Brown, who had that real long run (175 straight) until he finally sat out one game in my second year, definitely made an impression,” Skrine said. “He took a lot of pride in that, just being a tough player, and I learned you can’t stay in the league if you’re always hurt.
“I don’t want anybody ever to say that about me. I come to work ready to go every day.”
Wide receiver Nate Burleson was the Browns’ most high-profile weekend cut, which could lead to his forced retirement at age 33. He battled a hamstring injury throughout the preseason, which allowed undrafted rookie Taylor Gabriel to beat him out for a job.
Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer, who has been released three times, empathized with Burleson’s plight.
“Obviously, Nate was a great veteran presence, and we wish him the best of luck in whatever he’s going on to,” Hoyer said. “At some point, it happens to everyone. It happened to (then-Colts quarterback) Peyton Manning, and he’s one of the best of all time. It’s just the business that we’re in.”
Undrafted cornerback Robert Nelson has largely flown under the radar since signing with the Browns on May 12.
Despite being listed fifth on the official depth chart last week, the Arizona State product earned a roster spot and impressed Pettine.
“Nelly, I think he has a bright future in this league,” the coach said. “We were very fortunate that (secondary coach) Jeff Hafley had a connection and we were able to bring him here. We feel like he has the potential to be a starting NFL defensive back at some point.”
Pettine also praised Gabriel and undrafted rookie fullback Ray Agnew, in addition to Nelson, for “coming in here and the bigness of it never fazed them.”
Former Browns guard Garrett Gilkey (Tampa Bay), tight end MarQueis Gray (Minnesota), cornerback Leon McFadden (New York Jets) and guard Donald Hawkins (Dallas) were claimed off waivers. Cleveland released them Saturday during its cut down to 53 players.
Gilkey, who entered training camp in a battle with John Greco for the starting right guard spot, is reunited with his former Browns position coach in Buccaneers offensive line coach George Warhop.
“It’s always tough seeing your friends leave, but this is a tough business,” Skrine said. “I hope all my teammates that did get cut get picked up.”
Quote of the day
“There will always be a spot in my heart for the Steelers because they gave me a job when 31 other teams wouldn’t. But I think I’m on the right side of the rivalry now.” — Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer, who spent 19 days with Pittsburgh late in the 2012 regular season.
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.