Rogers return to practice field improves Browns’ defense

Published 2:02 am Tuesday, September 7, 2010

BEREA — Just like that, the Cleveland Browns’ defense got a whole lot bigger, badder and bulkier.

Shaun Rogers came back.

The mammoth nose tackle, who missed training camp and all four exhibition games while recovering from a leg injury sustained last season that required surgery, returned to practice Monday. Browns coach Eric Mangini said there’s a chance the 6-foot-4, 350-pounder could play in Sunday’s season opener at Tampa Bay.

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After spending most of the past month riding a stationary bike or stretching on the side as his teammates went through summer two-a-days, Rogers returned to the field as the Browns began installing their game plan for the Buccaneers.

During the 30-minute period open to reporters, Rogers did agility drills and No. 92 flattened a few blocking dummies with powerful swipes of his massive arms.

Mangini said Rogers will be brought along gradually this week, and that he will work at both nose tackle and defensive end. When Rogers missed the final five games last season, backup Ahtyba Rubin filled in and played well as the Browns ended the year with four straight wins.

It’s possible the Browns’ defensive front could include Rogers and Rubin this season.

“Rubin has earned the right to play and Rubin will play,” Mangini said. “He has done an exceptional job. I really have enjoyed watching his growth and seeing him develop — not just as a player but as a pro. He’s earned the right to play so that’s a good thing because Shaun does have the ability to play nose tackle and defensive end.

“To be able to mix guys in at different spots gives you depth, it gives you a chance to spell people during the course of a game and it also gives you some versatility in terms of matchups that you want against your opponents’ offensive linemen.”

A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Rogers missed much of training camp last season. But when the season kicked off, he was his usual dominant self, overpowering guards and centers and blocking field goals and extra points before breaking his leg in a November game at Cincinnati. The team has never revealed specifics about Rogers’ injury.

The Browns feel fortunate to have Rogers available at all.

Last week, he avoided a possible NFL suspension for an offseason felony weapons charge, when police said he carried a loaded handgun into Hopkins Airport. Instead, commissioner Roger Goodell fined him and docked Rogers a one-game paycheck — roughly $400,000 — for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

The off-field incident — Rogers was ordered to enter a diversion program to avoid a trial — didn’t help his reputation as being troublesome and selfish. He was acquired in a 2008 trade with Detroit, where Rogers lacked consistency and was accused of loafing.

One of Mangini’s core coaching principles is a team-first philosophy. He believes the Browns have a strong nucleus of veteran leaders, and that Rogers is one of them.

“I’ve gotten to know Shaun over the last couple of years and he hasn’t been in a situation where the team has won a lot of games and that’s something that’s important to him and that’s something that’s important to me,” Mangini said before practice. “Now the things that we talk about are how do we achieve that together. What’s that like and what goes into that whole process?

“One thing that I like that Shaun does a lot and does well is he’ll talk to the younger guys. They may be trying to figure out how to do something and really have no idea where to get the answer from. They kind of do and Shaun will take them through. He’s very good like that, in terms of sharing his experience with those guys. That, to me, is important from all of the veteran guys and the really good ones leave a legacy, not just of their play, but the other people that they help make play better.”

Rogers was not available to the media following practice. He can be a challenging interview, and has rarely opened up about his play or personal life. But ask any of his teammates, and they’ll tell you that Rogers is loyal and the perception of him is somewhat twisted.

“He’s a great guy,” running back Jerome Harrison said. “When he first came here, he was at the house every other day, barbecuing and hanging out. He’s a great teammate. He’s a great father as well to his little daughter. He’s a great guy in the locker room.

“A lot of guys on this team are misunderstood. But if he sat down and talked to you, you’ll find that he’s a big teddy bear.”

And a grizzly on Sundays.