BEREA — Cornerback Buster Skrine could need surgery on his thumb, but the team is hopeful he’ll be ready by the start of the regular season Sept. 7 in Pittsburgh.
Skrine left practice Friday and wasn’t on the field Saturday.
“I’m not sure how long he’ll be, but we think he should be available for the opener,” coach Mike Pettine said, adding he didn’t know yet if Skrine would require surgery.
Skrine, who started 15 games last year, is listed first on the depth chart and was trying to hold off first-round pick Justin Gilbert for the starting spot opposite Joe Haden. Even if Gilbert moves into the starting lineup, Skrine would play a prominent role as the nickelback.
“If you were ranking guys on how good of a camp they had, he would be right up there at the top,” Pettine said. “He goes out every day, competes with a smile on his face. He loves to play.
“He’s had his share of mistakes, but I think the holding stuff has quieted down ever since Haf (secondary coach Jeff Hafley) had those guys put the gloves on, but I think he’s a guy that’s improved and he loves to compete. He just doesn’t want to hand a job over to Justin Gilbert. I don’t think you can have enough corners in today’s NFL, and Buster’s a guy that’s going to have an important role for us.”
With Skrine likely sidelined for the final three preseason games, Gilbert will start in his preseason debut Monday night in Washington against receivers DeSean Jacskon and Pierre Garcon. Gilbert, the No. 8 pick, missed the opener in Detroit with a groin injury.
“I’m pumped up,” he said. “It’s like a dream come true playing next to a great guy like (Haden).”
“It’s been good to see Gilbert out there the last couple days playing with those guys,” Pettine said of the starting defense. “I’m looking forward to seeing him on Monday night against some top-caliber receivers.”
The Browns may have to go without a true nickelback against Washington. Cornerbacks Isaiah Trufant (knee), Aaron Berry (groin) and K’Waun Williams (hamstring) didn’t practice Saturday.
The alternative would be to play a third safety, such as Jim Leonhard or Jordan Poyer.
LATE FOR WORK Rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel confirmed he missed a meeting, but didn’t think it cost him the start Monday in Washington.
“I misread the schedule on Monday,” he said. “I think we had to come in at 7:30 and I think it was the only day that we have had to come in at that time throughout camp and I was on time for what I thought was our normal 8:15 meeting time.
“I sat down with Coach Pettine and I talked to him and we handled it and we’ve moved on. It was an honest mistake and something I need to learn from and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
** The rookie talent show was planned for Saturday night. The quarterbacks are sticking together.
“Me and Connor Shaw have a little something planned, so it should be a good time, just go up there and try to make these guys laugh a little bit,” Manziel said.
INJURY REPORT Starting defensive end Desmond Bryant may need surgery on his wrist.
“That’s still a possibility,” Pettine said. “He has an issue with his wrist that he’s had some doctors look at. It’s something that’s been bothering him for a long time.”
Bryant has been out since practicing Monday. He won’t play against Washington.
** Receiver Nate Burleson (hamstring), rookie cornerback Pierre Desir (knee), cornerback T.J. Heath (hip), linebackers Eric Martin (concussion), Darius Eubanks (shoulder) and Keith Pough (ankle) and offensive linemen Paul McQuistan (ankle), Michael Bowie (shoulder), Randall Harris (knee) and Nick McDonald (wrist) didn’t practice and won’t play.
FIGHT, THEN RUN Pettine wasn’t pleased with the quality of practice, and a fight involving about 30 players pushed him over the edge. So he sent the players to the sideline to begin a series of timed sprints.
“I just think it went a little too far,” Pettine said of the fight. “It’s the price of doing business, but I thought we got out of the realm of being good teammates.”
The skirmish started when right tackle Mitchell Schwartz shoved backup outside linebacker Justin Staples in the back well after the play. Another offensive player took Staples to the ground before he could retaliate, and a pile of humanity gathered. Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas was at the bottom.
Schwartz, usually mild-mannered, also pushed Staples following a play a couple of minutes earlier.
“It’s just normal practice stuff,” Schwartz said when asked what Staples did. “It’s my fault for starting the thing, something that I can’t do in the future.”
Pettine spotted a silver lining.
“The thing I was pleased about was how they responded after,” he said. “I thought they were sharp, focused, they practiced how they should.
“But I just told them after that we don’t need a traumatic event to kind of snap us back into place. We need to be mature enough, professional enough to deal with tough circumstances and practice well.”
WE’RE WAITING Receiver Josh Gordon (abdominal) returned after missing four straight practices, and Pettine said he’s “hopeful” he’ll be able to play Monday.
“We’ll see how he responded to the activity,” Pettine said. “I talked to him during practice. He said he was a little sore, but pushing through it.”
As the season draws closer, the Browns continue to wait for a ruling on Gordon’s appeal of an indefinite suspension for another violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. News of the suspension leaked in May, and the appeal hearing wrapped up Aug. 4.
“Not much has changed,” Pettine said. “We respect that there’s a process. I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t frustrating. I think anybody would be frustrated because you just want to know.
“We have our plan set, but we’re just waiting, patiently waiting, some people maybe not so patiently, but it’s something that’s outside of our control.”
EXTRA POINTS Rookie running back Terrance West, a third-round pick, will see time with the first-team offense because Pettine wants to see him face a starting defense.
** Pettine said No. 3 quarterback Rex Grossman is unlikely to play against Washington.
“If we don’t feel Rex is completely ready, probably more physically than mentally, then you’ll see Connor get some reps over Rex,” Pettine said.
** Pettine has backed off his plan to rest the starters in the preseason finale, even though he hasn’t made a final decision.
“I don’t know we’re in a position that we can rest our guys in the fourth game,” he said. “I think we need to play, so we’ll take that mentality and just see where we are from a health standpoint.”
** Receiver Travis Benjamin, who’s coming off knee surgery, is expected to return a kick or two Monday. He was inactive against Detroit.