BEREA — Browns coach Rob Chudzinski has decided to err on the side of caution heading into tonight’s preseason finale in Chicago.
All but two of Cleveland’s starters will sit out against the Bears, removing any risk of injury for running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden, tackle Joe Thomas and the other first-teamers on the roster.
The exceptions are wide receiver Josh Gordon — facing a two-game NFL suspension to begin the regular season — and right guard Oniel Cousins, who was shifted from tackle last week.
“It’s a tough decision, especially considering there are new systems in place and there are a lot of guys who don’t have a lot of experience in them,” Chudzinski said.
“You have to weigh those things, but then there are all those other situations where guys are nicked up that you would like to hold out of playing. You have to consider everything.”
With Weeden not in uniform, second-stringer Jason Campbell will start at quarterback and likely play the entire first half. Cleveland St. Ignatius product Brian Hoyer should spend the second half under center.
Chicago is also taking a cautious approach, sitting out top QB Jay Cutler and backup Josh McCown in favor of the recently signed Jordan Palmer.
The Bears and Browns are both 2-1.
“No matter who plays, I’m not concerned about our offense at all,” said Richardson, who suited up in the second and third preseason games. “We’ve got to start fast and finish strong. We know that, and we’re going to be ready for Miami in the opener (Sept. 8).”
Defensive end Billy Winn and outside linebacker Quentin Groves also will see limited action, along with wide receiver Travis Benjamin, as they fill in for Cleveland’s regulars at their positions.
Defensive end Desmond Bryant (back spasms) and outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard (knee soreness) should be ready for Week 1 against the Dolphins, but Gordon is ineligible to play until Sept. 22 at Minnesota after failing an offseason drug test.
“Generally, the guys who are with the ones will get 10 to 12 reps, but there also are a number of specifics involved there,” Chudzinski said. “The Chicago game will give us one last opportunity to see the first-, second-, third-year type guys that need to play. We’re looking forward to that.”
Three players who fit that description are wide receiver Josh Cooper and rookie punters Colton Schmidt and Spencer Lanning.
Cooper has the inside track on the sixth and final wideout spot, but is far from a lock despite his close relationship with former Oklahoma State teammate Weeden.
“I’m not really trying to worry about it too much,” said Cooper, who caught eight passes for 106 yards as a rookie in 2012. “I’m just going out and giving it all I’ve got. It’s pretty much a job interview every day I go out there, and that’s kind of how I approach it.”
Schmidt, who was claimed off waivers from the 49ers two days ago, will handle all kickoffs and serve as the holder on field goals and extra points. Fellow first-year pro Spencer Lanning will alternate with Schmidt on punts.
Also on the spot is 27-year-old running back Brandon Jackson, who has averaged just 1.7 yards on 23 preseason carries. If he continues to struggle, the roster door could open for undrafted rookie Miguel Maysonet, or the Browns could claim a veteran runner off waivers early next week.
“Brandon is a reliable guy, I have no issues with Brandon,” Chudzinski said. “As I’ve looked at the blocking on film, a lot of times there hasn’t been a lot of room there for him.
“But I am looking forward to seeing how Brandon runs the ball, and then some of the other younger guys will have the chance to do it, as well.”
Cleveland’s roster stands at 75 players, but it must be cut down to the NFL limit of 53 by 6 p.m. Saturday.
The Browns did make two transactions, reaching an injury settlement to release cornerback Trevin Wade and claiming rookie linebacker Eric Martin off waivers from the Saints.
Wade, a seventh-round draft pick in 2012, had been battling shoulder problems throughout training camp.
Martin was an All-Big Ten selection at Nebraska as a senior. The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder played in all three of New Orleans’ preseason games and will be active against the Bears.
Top draftee Barkevious Mingo (bruised lung) worked out with the team’s training staff in the weight room, but no timetable has been set for his return. The outside linebacker from Louisiana State was injured Aug. 15 against Detroit.
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Chicago
TIME: 8 p.m.
WHERE: Soldier Field, Chicago TV/RADIO: Channel 3; WKNR 850-AM, WKRK 92.3-FM, WNCX 98.5-FM