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Browns look to their youth

Posted Dec 21, 2012

Browns coach Pat Shurmur expects his young players to keep their focus while preparing for a hostile environment in Denver.

Earlier this week, the Cleveland Browns placed third-year safety T.J. Ward on injured reserve with a knee injury and his replacement, rookie Tashaun Gipson, suffered an injury in practice and will not travel with the team for Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos. The Browns head to Denver with three healthy safeties, veterans Usama Young and Ray Ventrone, as well as second-year player Eric Hagg.

Hagg started at free safety in the first two games of the season, but was inactive in the two games that followed. He has played in nine total games this year and made 17 tackles, He has registered 15 solo stops, two assists and one pass defended.

“I think he’s learned that he can play in this league,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said of Hagg. “He did a good job while he was in there. He does a good job in coverage and I’m sure that anytime you play for a while and then, you don’t, it gives you a little better view while you’re watching. I’m sure he’s learned something as he’s prepared.”

Throughout the season, the Browns have dealt with injuries at linebacker, and that continued following Sunday’s game against the Washington Redskins. With veterans Chris Gocong (Achilles) and Scott Fujita (shoulder/neck) already on injured reserve, the Browns were forced to shut down rookie linebacker James-Michael Johnson for the season due to a knee injury.

With Johnson out of the lineup, rookie L.J. Fort is expected to start in his place at strong side linebacker. Fort will be backed up by fellow rookie, Tank Carder.

Carder has played in 13 of the team’s 14 games this season and ranks seventh on the team with five special teams tackles.

“He’s a long player and he does a good job,” Shurmur said of Carder. “He’s very physical and I think he’s got pretty good instincts for the position. He’s another one of those young linebackers that is going to get a good opportunity.”

According to Carder, who was claimed by the team after being waived by Buffalo in August, staying focused while waiting for his time to play on defense has been a difficult adjustment to make. He came into the NFL after starting 39 of 50 career games at Texas Christian University, where he was a two-time Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year and the 2011 Rose Bowl Most Valuable Player.

“You’re not getting reps in the game and you think that you’re not getting noticed, that you don’t play a role, but you play a huge role,” Carder said. “If a guy gets hurt, the next guy’s got to step up and it happens that fast in this league. You’ve got to stay focused. One of the toughest things to do is to stay focused and stay on top of what you’ve got to do.”

OUT FOR SUNDAY

In his opening statement to the media Friday, Shurmur stated that three players, Gipson, wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and tight end Jordan Cameron would not make the trip to Denver with the team.

Massaquoi is dealing with a knee injury, while Cameron is being treated for a concussion. Gipson suffered a foot injury in Thursday’s practice.

DENVER’S RUSH

While second-year outside linebacker Von Miller leads the Broncos with 16 sacks, veteran defensive end Elvis Dumervil has registered nine of his own this season. After watching film of Denver’s defense, Shurmur said Dumervil reminds him a lot of Indianapolis defenders Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

“They’re really pass-rushers,” Shurmur said. “They’re stocky; they’re hard to get your hands on and they’re very, very explosive. It’s going to be a big challenge for us. Von Miller is more of a linebacker type that you see in coverage. They both play coverage, but that’s pretty much the difference.”

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