BEREA — The last time fans saw linebacker Eric Barton in uniform, he was being helped off Chicago’s Soldier Field with what turned out to be a season- ending neck injury.
After surgery and about nine months, Barton was ready to go at the start of training camp last week. He took snaps with the first-team defense Wednesday and Thursday and is in the middle of the 12-man linebacker competition.
“I’m feeling a lot better than that,” he joked, referring to the Bears game. “I’m anxious to get out there and play again.”
Barton hasn’t been limited during camp, which wasn’t a given following delicate surgery involving a bulging disc and vertebrae.
“You never know,” he said. “It puts things in perspective, really, how much this game means to you and things like that.
“Yeah, it was scary. But I fought through it and did what I had to do.”
Barton started the first eight games last year and was leading the team with 58 tackles when he got hurt. He’s 32 years old and has played 11 years in the NFL. After the neck injury, questions about retirement seem logical.
“When you’re injured, you have so much time that you fill your head with all these thoughts,” he said. “But I love football, I love my teammates, I want to compete.
“I just come out here and try to enjoy every day and take it for what it’s worth. When you’re out you take it into perspective how much you miss this game and your teammates and your coaches.”
Barton didn’t practice Wednesday night, choosing to take the session off after winning an offseason award. Tight end Benjamin Watson and defensive back Mike Adams cashed in their certificates Thursday.
“They are non-transferable,” coach Eric Mangini said. “You can’t sell them, and there have been some big offers for those.”
Anyone watching the first week of training camp has seen several interceptions by quarterback Jake Delhomme. The trend continued Thursday, which isn’t welcome news after he threw 18 picks in 11 games for Carolina last season. Defensive end Robaire Smith started practice by intercepting a tipped pass. Cornerback Eric Wright intercepted Delhomme as he threw deep into double coverage for Brian Robiskie.
Safety Abram Elam cut in front of Robiskie in the front of the end zone for a pick.
Mangini doesn’t like the interceptions, but has also seen his share of good play from Delhomme, who formed a nice connection with tight end Robert Royal on Thursday, including a touchdown over the middle.
“I really like what I’ve seen from Jake,” Mangini said. “I think he’s done an excellent job.
“What I like that I see consistently from him is there’s the offensive plays and then there’s the answers within the plays to problems that come up and he gets to those answers and he gets to them quickly and it’s encouraging. It’s really encouraging.”
On the nose
There’s been a lot of speculation about nose tackle Shaun Rogers moving to end so the Browns can get him and nose tackle Ahtyba Rubin on the field at the same time. Mangini said Rogers will work at both end spots when he returns to practice, but wouldn’t give up the nose tackle spot.
Rogers is out as he recovers from a broken leg suffered late last season.
“I don’t think it’s Shaun playing exclusively outside,” Mangini said of the team’s plans. “I just think it’s another thing that we can do and it’s another way that we can build in depth and build in versatility. It’s not that he wouldn’t play at the nose tackle position.”
- Punter Dave Zastudil was scheduled to fly back to town Thursday night and return to practice today. He had offseason surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon in his right (non-kicking) knee and visited the doctor this week to get it checked. Mangini dismissed the notion of having Zastudil start camp on the physically unable to perform list, and said the doctor visit was standard operating procedure. “When we looked at it and where he was in his rehab and the amount of work that he had done, we felt good about it,” he said. “It’s not a spike or anything different in the progression.”
- Mangini didn’t give any details, but said reserve cornerback Chris Roberson will miss at least a couple of weeks after being carted off Wednesday with a serious leg injury.
- Receiver Chansi Stuckey left practice with what appeared to be an ankle injury. He was trying to make a catch in the end zone and didn’t return to action. He stayed on the field and was limping slightly after practice.
- Fullback Lawrence Vickers returned to practice, while running back Peyton Hillis (leg) and linebacker Titus Brown were held out.
- The variety of plays the Browns run out of the Wildcat formation continues to grow. Joshua Cribbs took the snap and threw a receiver screen to backup quarterback Seneca Wallace, who scored behind a great block from rookie receiver Johnathan Haggerty. As Wallace was navigating the 5 yards into the end zone, he yelled, “Good block, Hags.”
- Robiskie’s excellent camp hit a speed bump with a couple of dropped passes, one short and one long.
- Tony Pashos and Floyd Womack worked as right tackle and right guard with the starters, as the coaches continued to rotate the candidates.
- President Mike Holmgren is out of his orange cast and into a big boot. He remained in a golf cart and on a scooter, as he isn’t supposed to put weight on the surgically repaired foot.
- The Browns and Subway Restaurants of Northeast Ohio announced a partnership for all preseason and regular-season home games. Coupons for $5 off tickets in the Family Zone are available at Subways. The limit is eight per person.
- A Browns Backers night will be held today at Swings-N-Things Family Fun Park in Olmsted Township from 4-10:30. Former Browns, including Kevin Mack, Al Baker and Antwan Peek, are scheduled to attend. Passes are available at the gate or online for a reduced price at www.sntfun.com.
Thursday at Browns camp
- NEWS OF THE DAY: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell visited camp. He watched practice with president Mike Holmgren, then met with fans and media. He discussed the uncertain labor situation, and said his office hasn’t reached a decision on possible discipline for Browns defensive linemen Shaun Rogers and Robaire Smith.
- CAMPER OF THE DAY: Quarterback Seneca Wallace. There’s no quarterback controversy brewing, but Wallace has looked sharper than starter Jake Delhomme through five days of camp. Wallace completed a deep post to Joshua Cribbs, a short corner route to Cribbs for a touchdown and caught a screen pass from Cribbs and ran it in.
- PLAY OF THE DAY: Defensive end Robaire Smith has played 10 NFL seasons without an interception. He got one on the first play of practice. Delhomme’s pass was tipped, and Smith came down with the free ball.
- QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’m glad he’s taking this trip. People talk about this being a P.R. stunt. On one hand it is, but it’s good he’s coming out, because we have a lot of questions that we need answered.” — Linebacker Scott Fujita, on the visit from Goodell.
- POINT OF INTEREST: An NFL officiating crew worked the practice. They are in town through Saturday and will meet with the coaches, players and media.
- TODAY’S SCHEDULE: A single practice, from 1:30-3:30 p.m. The Browns will hold a Family Day scrimmage at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Saturday at 1 p.m.
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