By DARYL RUITER, 92.3 The Fan Browns Beat ReporterBy Daryl Ruiter | 92.3 The Fan

BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – The Browns’ defense got some good news on 2 fronts Thursday.

First, Giants coach Tom Coughlin ruled out receiver Hakeem Nicks for Sunday’s game. Nicks is sidelined with a foot and knee injury.

Second, Browns safety T.J. Ward returned to practice.

Ward underwent surgery to repair a broken right thumb following last Thursday night’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Ward, who wore a soft cast on his right hand Thursday, was not permitted to talk to reporters in the locker room following practice.

Putting In The Work: Rookie receiver Josh Gordon understands he’s far from a finished product and that he has a lot of work to do to become an every down receiver.

Most importantly – precision route running which is vital in Shurmur’s west coast system.

“The biggest thing was getting depth on certain routes,” Gordon said. “In other offenses, you don’t necessarily need to get the whole 15, maybe you can round it to 13, here you definitely want to get it to 15 because defenders get in the way. They’re so good and smart that they’ll get right to it, and it’ll be an interception or a miscue.
I’m just focusing on my steps, and if I have to speed up or slow down to get to where I need to be, then that’s what I’m going to do.

“The coaches expect the best out of my every day, and I’m just trying to give that to them and prove it to myself that I can compete and be consistent as much as possible.”

Offensive coordinator Brad Childress has seen improvement from the rookie supplemental draft pick – especially on the practice field.

“I think he had his best practice as a professional [Wednesday],” Childress said. “I didn’t see any hesitation, didn’t see him think about anything. He was just fast.”

With both Travis Benjamin and Mohamed Massaquoi unable to practice due to hamstring injuries, it’s critical for Gordon to step up this week against the Giants.

“Definitely, but it’s like you look to the sideline and nobody’s going to come in for you,” Gordon said. “There’s no break, there’s no rest, you pretty much have to man-up to it and hold up to your responsibilities. At this point, there’s really nothing holding me back.”

Hang On Mr. Cooper: Although the Browns are short at receiver this week, it doesn’t appear that coach Pat Shurmur is ready to activate Josh Cooper from the practice squad.

“He’s practice squad for us so in order to get him up we would have to make a roster move and then anything’s possible,” Shurmur said. “I would say this, don’t read too much into my body language, but I would say that he’s practiced well. He would have to become active in order to play and we’ll just have to see.”

Cooper, who was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent, has been putting in extra time on and off the field this week in case his number is called.

Addressing Slow Starts: Shurmur admitted Thursday that he to has looked into the Browns’ slow starts in games since he has taken over as head coach.

“We look at it all,” Shurmur said. “Tweaking the warm up to whatever, doing things that will help us get a faster start, changing the way we call plays, all those things. To generalize it, I think what you want to do is you want to try to get ahead of the team. Those are the things that we’re trying to get done.”

In 20 games under Shurmur, the Browns have been outscored 103-32 in the opening quarter and 86-55 in the third quarter. Overall, in the first half they have been outscored 226-136 compared to 172-155 in the second half.

“If the score ends up 0-0 at the end of the first quarter, that wasn’t a slow start for our defense,” Shurmur said.”I can point to those things. It doesn’t seem like there’s a great deal of scoring going on in the first half of a lot of games. Guys are slugging it out, getting a feel for things, you’re fighting and battling. Ideally, you want to jump way ahead of a team and we get that.”

Good To Get Somebody Back: Linebacker James-Michael Johnson is expected to make his regular season debut much to the delight of defensive coordinator Dick Jauron.

“It’s really good to have him back, to get somebody back,” Jauron said. “We were counting on him to contribute throughout the whole year. We’re excited to get him back on the field, now we’ve just got to see because it’s his first week back in full practice.”

Jauron has been juggling his defensive unit from day 1, including the secondary due to injury or suspension – see Joe Haden – but he hasn’t changed his approach defensively.

“In terms of calls and defenses, we haven’t done it a lot different,” Jauron said. “I haven’t really thought about it like that – to try to change things up or protect our corners. Our guys are very competitive, the people that play on the edge, they have to be to play in this league, they just have to be. They have to tough, and have short memories and get right back up and challenge after they don’t look so good on a play, and they’ve done that for us. Hopefully they will continue.”

Injury Report: Did Not Practice – WR Travis Benjamin (hamstring), DB Tashaun Gipson (knee), WR Mo Massaquoi (hamstring) and TE Alex Smith (concussion); Limited – LB JMJ (ribs/oblique), S Ray Ventrone (hand/calf) and S TJ Ward (hand); Full – WR Josh Cribbs (concussion), DE Frostee Rucker (shoulder) and S Usama Young (knee).

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