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Cornerback E.J. Gaines has concussion, leaving Browns short-handed vs. pass-happy Bucs and their terrific trio of receivers

BEREA — The anxiety level inside Browns headquarters went up a few notches Thursday after cornerback E.J. Gaines showed up with symptoms and was diagnosed with a concussion.

There’s never a good time to lose a starting cornerback, but this week ranks among the worst. The Browns are headed to Tampa to face the Buccaneers, who have a trio of dynamic receivers in Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and Chris Godwin.

The evidence is in the numbers, as the Bucs lead the league in passing yards per game (368.4 per game) and per pass play (14.3) and have 16 passing touchdowns despite starting the season with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback and switching to Jameis Winston after he returned from suspension.

“It stresses the coaches, too — the guys, coaches, everybody,” coach Hue Jackson said of the wideouts. “They are good. Make no doubt about it. They all are making plays. They have all scored touchdowns.

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“It is a big challenge for us. Have to go play well.”

The challenge is a lot tougher without a full complement of cornerbacks.

The Browns were already without starter Terrance Mitchell, who’s on injured reserve with a broken wrist. He had been replaced by Gaines, who practiced Wednesday — the team was in pads as usual for a Wednesday — and reported Thursday morning with symptoms. Jackson said he won’t play Sunday.

For the second straight week the Browns had a player show up Thursday and report a concussion. Last week it was backup linebacker Tanner Vallejo.

“I just think it was something that had been lingering,” Jackson said of Gaines.

Rookie No. 1 cornerback Denzel Ward will be joined by TJ Carrie in the starting lineup, with Briean Boddy-Calhoun taking over at nickelback. Denzel Rice and rookie Tavierre Thomas are next in line.

“In this league so many things can happen,” Carrie said. “You have to prepare yourself as a starter. It will be a little adjustment, but we will make it work.”

Gaines joined the Browns in March, signing a one-year, $4 million free agent contract. He was inactive for the opener with a knee injury and replaced Mitchell in the starting lineup in Week 5. He has 11 tackles, an interception and two other passes defensed.

Carrie signed a four-year, $31 million free agent deal in March. He’s played all six games off the bench with 26 tackles, a sack and a pass defensed.

Boddy-Calhoun opened the year as the nickelback but was demoted after a rough outing against Pittsburgh. After playing 62 defensive snaps against the Steelers, he’s totaled 39 in the last five games, including none against the Jets and the Chargers last week.

He’ll step right back into the fire, as the Bucs use the physical Evans and Godwin and the speedy Jackson in the slot.

“I’m always ready to play,” Boddy-Calhoun said.

Evans (6-foot-5, 231 pounds) has 33 catches for 484 yards, a 14.7 average and three touchdowns. Jackson (5-10, 175) has 21 for 501, a 23.9 average and three touchdowns. Godwin (6-1, 209) has 21 for 249, an 11.9 average and four touchdowns.

“It is a heckuva challenge,” Hue Jackson said. “You have one guy that is big and fast, another guy that is smaller and fast and the other guy is in between and can do all of those things, too.

“DeSean Jackson is one of the fastest guys that I have seen play, whether it was high school, college or the National Football League. He can really go. Evans is one of the best players in the league at his position. We understand what the challenge is. That is how they score. They are going to throw the football.”

Carrie had been the nickelback playing in the slot.

“I look at it as harder than outside,” he said. “If I can go from playing the harder thing to playing more of an easier, focused thing outside, then it makes it a little bit easier from that standpoint. You just have to get into a different mentality when you play outside.”

Boddy-Calhoun, who started seven games last year, didn’t complain about the quick hook by the coaching staff after his struggles Week 1.

“You’re always on a short leash here,” he said. “Every day’s not guaranteed. You have to go and play your best every single game, period.”

He gave himself a C for his play thus far.

“I don’t think I’ve played my man to the best that I can,” he said. “I make plays and I haven’t made any plays on defense.”

He blamed technique issues and believes they’re corrected.

“I plan on playing as an A, A-plus, A-plus-plus whenever my number is called,” he said. “Just because I’ve played as a C doesn’t mean I’m going to continue to play as a C.”

 

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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