By Scott Petrak
PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Soft-tissue injuries are making life hard on the Browns.
Receiver Terrelle Pryor returned to the stationary bike Tuesday night after aggravating a right hamstring injury and didn’t participate in the second day of practices with the Buffalo Bills at St. John Fisher College. He’s expected to miss Thursday night’s preseason game against the Bills.
Cornerback Justin Gilbert joined Pryor on the sideline after suffering a hip flexor injury in a one-on-one red zone drill.
Pryor originally injured the hamstring Aug. 4. He missed six practices and the preseason opener before returning Saturday for a walkthrough. He practiced Monday but struggled.
“I think he felt his hammy grab again a little bit yesterday,” coach Mike Pettine said.
Pryor is running out of time to further impress the coaching staff and front office in his transition from quarterback. He got off to a strong start in training camp, but will have two preseason games at the most to prove he deserves a roster spot.
“He was having a hard time yesterday and to see him go down again after he’s been working so hard to get back, it’s tough,” quarterback Johnny Manziel said. “Terrelle’s a guy that wants to be out there with us. He wants to work on these little intricacies of things he’s trying to pick up as far as the receiver position.”
Gilbert’s trip to the Rochester area was a debacle. He was torched during practice Monday, with his confidence appearing to plummet. Then he was hurt Tuesday and will likely miss the game Thursday night.
Gilbert started the one-on-one period with good coverage of rookie receiver Dezmin Lewis, drawing compliments from the sideline. Then he was hurt covering receiver Tobais Palmer.
They started in the slot, Palmer faked outside, hesitated and cut toward the middle. Gilbert dived to break up the low throw and immediately grabbed his right hip, then pounded the turf with his palm.
He limped to the sideline, was checked by trainers and had his upper leg wrapped in ice. He remained on the sideline to watch the rest of practice.
“I don’t think it’s significant,” Pettine said. “It’s a hip flexor, so it’ll just be a little bit of time, I think.”
Gilbert raised the count to 17 players of the 90-man roster not practicing with injuries. Ten have soft-tissue injuries — six hamstrings, two calves, an abdominal and the hip flexor. Five of the 10 are cornerbacks — Joe Haden, Pierre Desir and Robert Nelson with hamstrings, K’Waun Williams with an abdominal strain and Gilbert.
“It is tough. I think everybody in the league is trying to solve the soft-tissue riddle,” coach Mike Pettine said. “We feel like our protocol is tried and true, and unfortunately, we are still ending up with some pulls. That is something that we are constantly in a state of evaluating.
“We stress to our guys you have to eat right, sleep well and make sure we are hydrated. It is a source of frustration. Sometimes you have it where you want guys to push through, but you don’t want to worsen it so you usually err on the side of caution.”
Pettine said he has been told injury numbers are up league-wide and he’s waiting for a study to examine the difference in the statistics before and after the collective bargaining agreement of 2011 that eliminated two-a-days and mandated days off during camp.
Pettine said there’s nothing the team can change in the short term to stop the injury bug, particularly the hamstrings, and pinned some of the responsibility on the players.
“No, it’s a two-way street. We have a protocol and our guys have got to be professional and handle their business and stick to it,” he said. “You don’t want to try to just panic and jump off and do something radically different and then it gets worse. We believe in what we do and we’ve got to make sure that we’re all compliant with it as well.”
After the Gilbert injury, rookie sixth-round pick Charles Gaines, Kendall James, Aaron Ross and Johnson Bademosi rotated in with the first team opposite starter Tramon Williams.
SHOOTING FOR TAMPAReceivers Dwayne Bowe (hamstring) and Marlon Moore (ribs), free safety Tashaun Gipson (calf), running backs Duke Johnson Jr. (hamstring), Shaun Draughn (hand) and Glenn Winston (knee surgery), outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (knee surgery), safety De’Ante Saunders (calf) and quarterback Connor Shaw (right thumb surgery) were among the others who didn’t practice.
Rookie running back Luke Lundy returned to the sideline after suffering his second concussion of camp Monday.
Pettine is optimistic many of the injured will be able to return for the third preseason game Aug. 29 at Tampa Bay.
“We feel like we’re close to getting some of our guys back, and also with the long break till Tampa, it’s kind of a nice luxury to have,” he said. “We feel we’ll be much better off headed into that one, assuming we can get through Thursday night pretty clean.
“What we’d like to do is time it up so that for Tampa we can have as many of our ones and key backups out there and get some quality work then. But we’re looking to get some solid work done Thursday night.”
** For the Bills, star running back LeSean McCoy exited with a left hamstring injury. He pulled up running a route.
PLAYING TIMEPettine didn’t have his plan set in stone for Thursday night, but expects the starters to play about 15-25 snaps.
“Some guys less, some guys more,” he said.
As expected, Josh McCown will start at quarterback. Pettine said Manziel might play into the third quarter for the second straight game.
Defensive lineman Billy Winn (ankle/knee) will make his preseason debut. Pettine said it’s yet to be determined if defensive lineman Phil Taylor will play. He’s coming off knee surgery and easing his way back.
A SHUTOUTThe Browns didn’t score a touchdown in practice Tuesday, giving the Bills defense the advantage both days. Pettine kept the team on the field for extra work after the Bills were done.
McCown had a pass tipped by defensive tackle Stefan Charles and intercepted by linebacker Preston Brown. Manziel was intercepted on the goal line by cornerback Ron Brooks on fourth-and-goal from the 13. Defensive end Jerry Hughes sacked McCown, and end Mario Williams batted a McCown pass on the line to end a drive.
“I don’t think we struggled,” receiver Andrew Hawkins said. “There are always things we can learn from. There is definitely some things we can work on. From that standpoint, it is not like we were prepared for the defense. We were coming out here and practicing.
“It is an adjustment process for everybody. I think we did some really good things the last two days. I wouldn’t say we struggled at all.”
GOOD WITH THREEShaw is expected to go on season-ending injured reserve, but Pettine said the Browns won’t add a quarterback to take practice reps. Thaddeus Lewis is behind McCown and Manziel.
“I think we’re OK,” Pettine said. “The volume won’t be as much as it is earlier in camp. I think if this had happened week one (of camp), we would’ve looked to add an arm.”
Pettine said quarterbacks coach Kevin O’Connell can help throw if needed.
EXTRA POINTSLeft tackle Joe Thomas, outside linebacker Paul Kruger and inside linebacker Karlos Dansby rested, bringing the total to 20 Browns players who didn’t practice.
** Ross fell on his behind after being faked out on a triple move by Bills receiver Deonte Thompson. He caught a touchdown and celebrated profusely.
** Browns outside linebacker Scott Solomon had two virtual sacks or near-sacks.
** Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly watched practice.