BEREA — With the loss of Eric Wright to free agency, it has been assumed the Browns will fortify the cornerback position with a veteran through free agency or via trade.
Behind projected starters, Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown, there are hardly any household names: DeAngelo Smith, Carl Gettis, James Dockery, Coye Francies and Ramzee Robinson to name a few.
And then there’s fifth-round draft choice, Buster Skrine.
Besides the apparent lack of experience or depth at cornerback, Brown, is 32 and is coming off rotator cuff surgery. Tuesday morning in 11-on-11, Skrine stepped in front of Jordan Norwood and intercepted a pass from Colt McCoy and raced untouched to the end zone for a touchdown.
“As a head coach, you like to see a pick-six,” Pat Shurmur said. “You don’t want to see your team throw picks, but Buster made a nice play.”
“It was zone coverage and I read the slot receiver and jumped the route and got a pick six,” Skrine said.
Skrine was drafted out of Chattanooga in the fifth-round by the Browns. Skrine has blazing speed (4.22-4.23 40-yard dash) but is undersized, listed at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds.
“Coming out of college, I had the speed and quickness,” Skrine said. “I never doubted myself because of my size. I just play football. (Defensive backs) Coach (Jerome Henderson) has helped me with my technique and I just made a play.”
Skrine has been playing while Brown is resting with the starters. Skrine thinks he can be the team’s nickel back this year.
“This is a learning period for me,” he said. “I think I can be the starting nickel back.”
Skrine is quick to give credit to Brown for taking him under his wing.
“Sheldon Brown has helped me a lot,” Skrine said. “Day by day, I’m gaining more confidence and learning the defense.
“I’ve been running with the first team and have been getting a lot of work.”
Skrine knows he cannot depend on his athleticism alone at the NFL level.
“You can be fast, but if you’re not at the right speed, with the right technique and in the right place, you won’t be successful.”
Skrine said his non-prototypical size for a corner has always helped motivate him.
“I always have a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I’m a smaller corner, who came from a smaller school and I’m always trying to prove myself.”
Hodges Down: Near the end of practice, punter Reggie Hodges went down after he punted the ball. It appeared his left foot, his plant foot, gave out. Whether it was an Achilles tendon injury or what happened is unclear.
“He’s being evaluated," Shurmur said. "I don’t know anything more.”
Hodges is currently the only punter on the roster. He punted 78 times for 3,424 yards (43.9 avg.) and 29 punts inside the 20. He replaced Dave Zastudil, who was coming off knee surgery last season. That made Zastudil expendable.
“(Hodges) had a good year last year,” Shurmur said. “We’re not going to jump to any conclusions.”
Taylor Update: There was no official word on No. 1 draft choice DL Phil Taylor, but former teammate Jordan Norwood said, ‘He’s excited to be out here.’
Shurmur was asked after practice about Taylor.
“We’re working on that,” Shurmur said. “I haven’t talked with Tom (Heckert) yet (this morning).”
Reportedly, the holdup for Taylor was the amount of guaranteed money. The draft choice directly ahead of him, DE Adrian Clayborn, signed some time ago.
Taylor posted on his Twitter account Monday night that he, "Might be on that field 2mrw."
Shurmur said when Taylor gets in, he’ll be put into action rather quickly.
“When he gets in, he’ll get in there.”
Sheard Slowed: Rookie second-round draft choice DE Jabaal Sheared was held out of practice with a hamstring injury. Other players held out: OL Eric Steinbach (knee), WR Josh Cribbs (knee), TE Ben Watson (concussion) and WR Carlton Mitchell (shoulder).
RB Montario Hardesty was still held out of team drills as he comes back from ACL knee surgery last year.
“It’s day to day with him,” Shurmur said. “Each return from injury is different and each guy handles it differently.”
Norwood Impresses: WR Jordan Norwood has caught the eye of Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert, who praised Norwood on Tuesday. Norwood has taken advantage of the absence of WR Mohamed Massaquoi and WR Carlton Mitchell and has consistently made plays in practice.
“Jordan’s got quickness,” Shurmur said. “He can separate and has made some plays in training camp.”
Norwood (5-11, 180) is one of the smaller receivers on the field.
“He gets it,” Shurmur said. “He has come in with a firm foundation of the scheme and he’s quick, fast and knows how to separate.”
Norwood said he learned a lot from former Browns slot receiver Chansi Stuckey while he was on the practice squad last season.
Norwood played at Penn State and was signed by the Browns to the team’s practice squad during the 2010 season.