BEREA — Defensive end Chris Smith has been through too much to get frustrated over a lack of playing time.
And that’s just in his six-year career.
“I’ve been cut, traded for a pack of Skittles in this league, everything,” he said. “Too much doesn’t really faze me.”
That Smith shows up for work every day and smiles throughout an interview is remarkable. His girlfriend, Petara Cordero, was killed in a traffic accident Sept. 11, a month after giving birth to their baby girl.
“I’m a spiritual person, well, I’ve got spiritual strength, that’s how I got through the situation,” Smith said. “I still think about it every day, I’m used to the new norm now.
“As far as the football stuff, you’ve just got to trust the process. When it’s your time, like now, I come in the building on Monday, (coach) Freddie (Kitchens) comes up to me, ‘Hey, it’s your time, let’s go.’ You’ve always got to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.”
Smith will move into the starting lineup Sunday against the Dolphins following the indefinite suspension of Myles Garrett. Chad Thomas will start at the other end in place of Olivier Vernon, who was ruled out with a knee injury and will miss his third straight game.
Smith played only five snaps against the Broncos and 10 against the Bills in back-to-back weeks early this month. He has just one tackle and one pass defensed in eight games but said he’s mentally, physically and spiritually ready to take on the expanded role.
He’s played 59 games in his career, including his only two starts last year in Cleveland, and is used to filling in when needed.
“That’s been my whole career,” he said. “That’s how I got my second contract here.
“No one can make up for Myles. I know if we play together as a defense, we’ll all be good.”
With defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi suspended one game for his role in the brawl with Pittsburgh on Nov. 14, the Browns will be down three of their four starting linemen and 18 of their 31 sacks — Garrett 10, Ogunjobi five, Vernon three. Devaroe Lawrence will join usual starter Sheldon Richardson at tackle.
“I think those guys have worked all week and are playing together and doing their job, which enables the defense to play at a high level,” Kitchens said Friday. “If we get that Sunday, it will be to our benefit. We have total confidence in those guys are going to step in and play well. We do not need them to just be out there. We need them to play well, and I have full confidence that they will do that.”
MOVING ON UP
The Browns needed depth on the defensive line and promoted tackle Brandin Bryant and end Porter Gustin from the practice squad. They take the roster spots of Garrett and Ogunjobi.
Bryant (6-foot-3, 294) has spent all season on the practice squad. He’s played in the Canadian Football League and spent time with the Seahawks and Jets. He’ll wear No. 90.
Gustin (6-5, 257) is an undrafted rookie out of USC. He was waived in final roster cuts by the Saints and has been on Cleveland’s practice squad for two weeks. He’ll wear No. 97.
Bryan Cox was signed last week and will see time at end. He started his high school career at Avon.
After missing eight games with a broken wrist, tight end David Njoku practiced three days this week and said he was ready to play. The Browns are making him wait.
“We want to see David another week and see what we get at the end of next week,” Kitchens said.
With Njoku out for at least this game, undrafted rookie Stephen Carlson will continue to be used in a rotation. Carlson’s first NFL catch was against the Steelers, an acrobatic 8-yard touchdown that sealed the victory but got lost in the brawl.
“It is just amazing,” coordinator Todd Monken said. “He will do it exactly the way you want.
“A lot of people were really excited for him, and usually when your teammates get excited for somebody, it is someone that they really respect the way they work and go about their business.”
Carlson, who went to Princeton and spent the first seven games on the practice squad, appreciated the reaction.
“Everyone was jumping around and getting into my face,” he said. “It was a very exciting time, probably one of the more exciting times I’ve had playing football. It was definitely an awesome experience.”
The backend of the defense is almost as short-handed as the front four.
Free safety Damarious Randall is the only one of the top four safeties from a month ago available to face the Dolphins. Morgan Burnett (Achilles) is out for the season, Eric Murray (knee) will miss his fourth straight game and Jermaine Whitehead was cut Nov. 4 after threatening posts on Twitter.
Juston Burris will take Burnett’s starting spot, and rookie fourth-round pick Sheldrick Redwine will play in three-safety packages.
“I have been impressed with Red, the way he has come on during the course of the year and continued to get better,” Kitchens said.
Burris was claimed off waivers Sept. 20 and has started five games, including against the Rams two days after he was picked up. He has 12 tackles, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a sack.
“Juston came into a tough situation earlier in the year,” Kitchens said. “He was here less than 48 hours for us, played in a game for us and played well. It says a lot about his football character from the standpoint of being able to focus and concentrate. We like to use the word of ‘hyperfocus.’ Intense, intense focus and concentration.”
Undrafted rookie J.T. Hassell was promoted from the practice squad to be the fourth safety.
Austin Seibert has missed five kicks in his rookie season. All five have come into the Dawg Pound end at FirstEnergy Stadium — three extra points and 45- and 50-yard field goals against Pittsburgh. He had made 16 field goals to start his career.
“Bermuda Triangle? That is actually a good way to put it,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “Everybody, our opponents have had problems.”
All the opponents’ misses have also come at that end.
“It is funny because you talk to Phil Dawson before the season, and I got a lot of information from Phil,” Priefer said. “He never gave me that indication that the Dawg Pound was that bad, but he did say, once the ball gets up in the air, the winds do not always do what the flags are showing. I think that is what is happening.”
Priefer said Seibert pushed the first miss against the Steelers and the second one was drilled but the wind knocked it wide right. Seibert practiced at the stadium Wednesday, like the specialists do most weeks, and went 12-for-12 into the Dawg Pound.
“It was not that windy, but that gives him confidence going forward,” Priefer said.
Middle linebacker Joe Schobert (groin) was listed as questionable on the official injury report but is expected to play. He was limited in practice Thursday and a full participant Friday.
** For the Dolphins, starting cornerback Ken Webster (ankle) was listed as doubtful and defensive end Taco Charlton (elbow) questionable. Charlton leads the Dolphins with four of their 13 sacks.