BEREA — Special teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone has faced major hardships before coaching his first game with the Browns.
Cade York’s struggles were the story of the preseason, then the kicker was cut and replaced by veteran Dustin Hopkins. On top of that, returner Jakeem Grant Sr. was lost for the season with a torn patellar tendon suffered in the preseason finale.
“Things happen in sports and football and it’s how you bounce back, it’s how you get back up off the ground and how are we going to make it right,” Ventrone said Thursday. “So I feel like this is some adversity with our team and we got to come back fighting.”
Ventrone wished it would’ve worked out with York, a fourth-round pick in 2022, but noted he’s worked with several kickers throughout his five years as a coordinator, so the late change isn’t a problem.
“Excited about Dustin and his opportunity to contribute to our team,” he said. “He’s done well. He’s getting comfortable with the operation, he’s very particular, so those guys have done a good job.”
Hopkins has told holder Corey Bojorquez exactly how he wants the ball placed and leaned. He kicked at the stadium last week and has played in only one game on the lakefront.
“He’s kicked outside. He’s been in the elements,” Ventrone said, mentioning Hopkins’ years with Washington. “He understands wind patterns and wind conditions. So that, I think, bodes to his advantage and our advantage as far as acquiring a guy this late in the game. And he’s a true professional. He’s worked really hard at getting comfortable with those guys, so it’s been good.”
Ventrone will go with multiple guys to replace Grant, with running back Jerome Ford expected to return kickoffs and receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones punts. They did those jobs for most of last season.
“Jerome does a lot of good things,” Ventrone said. “He’s got good vision. He’s an aggressive runner. He’s fast. He’s got good contact balance. He’s strong. I think he’s got some toughness to him.
“Every Friday I show a high school highlight film from one of our players at the end of my meeting just to try to lighten it up a little bit and I’m going to show his tomorrow, and it’s probably the best highlight film I’ve seen in the last six years. So excited to do that.”
Ventrone trusts Peoples-Jones to secure and protect the ball.
“Donovan’s judgment is excellent,” he said. “He’s got really good hands. He does a pretty good job setting up on the ball. Very, very reliable ballhandler.”
OOLONG OR CHAMOMILE
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has been well-received in his first year with the team but knows he can be a bit much.
“I’m not everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s all business and I hope that I’m the guy that’s cheering as much as I am bringing some fire,” he said. “It’s an urgent business. We have to be ready to go. But I would hope that you would see me congratulating guys after a play. I’m not just out there ragging on people being a jerk for no reason.
“It’s a performance-based business. If they’re not performing up to par, I’m not going to sit around and not say anything. My job is to make sure it’s right. And sometimes ruffled feathers can help a guy perform. So if you’re thin-skinned, the NFL is not the business for you, you’ve got to go find something else to do.”
Cornerback Denzel Ward remained in the concussion protocol but practiced in a limited capacity for the second straight day. The Browns will update Friday whether he’s still in the protocol and his status for the game.
** Safety Juan Thornhill (calf) didn’t practice and worked on the side. He was limited Wednesday.
He signed a three-year, $21 million deal in March as a free agent from the Chiefs.
** Right tackle Jack Conklin rested. Receiver Amari Cooper and left guard Joel Bitonio practiced after resting Wednesday.
** Receiver Marquise Goodwin (blood clots) and defensive end Alex Wright (knee) were again limited.
** For the second straight day for the Bengals, quarterback Joe Burrow, receiver Tyler Boyd (toe) and tackle D’Ante Smith (shoulder) were full participants and defensive end Joseph Ossai (ankle) didn’t practice.
FEELING LIKE HIMSELF
Cooper’s health and conditioning are where he wants them following core muscle surgery in February. He also missed a couple of days early in camp with a soft-tissue injury.
“I feel good. I’m ready to go,” he said.
Cooper played through the core muscle injury for the final month last season.
“What a tough guy he was to stick it out last year for us,” offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. “He looks like he’s back to the old Amari right now.”
Goodwin is expected to play Sunday and adds a dimension to the offense not many can.
“We know he gives you great speed, great experience as a player, has made a ton of plays in the league, and having that ability to run through defenses and push the coverage deeper is obviously going to help any team,” Van Pelt said. “But not only is he fast, he’s also a very good receiver, so we’ll use him in multiple ways.”
The Browns converted $11.4 million of right guard Wyatt Teller’s salary into a signing bonus, clearing more than $9 million in salary cap space. He’s the latest player to have his contract restructured, as the Browns have created a league-high $35 million in cap space, according to overthecap.com, which can be rolled over to 2024.
** The Browns and the Cleveland Restoration Society will unveil Cleveland’s Ali Summit Civil Rights Trail marker Friday afternoon at the stadium. It will be the seventh marker placed on the Cleveland Civil Rights Trail and displayed on the south plaza.
It commemorates the summit of famous athletes, including Browns Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, after Muhammad Ali said he wasn’t going to serve in the Vietnam War.