Banged-up Browns place Bitonio on IR, QB McCown still out

Rookie quarterback Cody Kessler will start against the Titans

Cleveland Browns' Joel Bitonio looks to block against the New England Patriots during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Cleveland Browns' Joel Bitonio looks to block against the New England Patriots during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

CLEVELAND (AP) — The Browns are dropping like, well, the Browns.

Decimated by injuries since the season opener, Cleveland placed starting left guard Joel Bitonio on injured reserve Friday. They also ruled out quarterback Josh McCown for this week’s game at Tennessee as he continues to recover from a broken left collarbone.

Bitonio’s loss is another blow to the winless Browns (0-5), who have already started three quarterbacks, played five this season, and had no luck.

Rookie quarterback Cody Kessler will start against the Titans, one week after he sustained an injury to his chest and ribs in a loss to New England. McCown returned to practice for the first time since getting hurt on Sept. 18, but the 37-year-old isn’t ready to play. With McCown still sidelined, rookie Kevin Hogan, promoted from the practice squad earlier this week, will back up Kessler.

Browns coach Hue Jackson said McCown needs more time to heal.

“He is getting there,” Jackson said Friday. “He is doing some things really well, but we are going to err on the side of caution with our guys before we stick them out there. I want to make sure they are really healed up and ready to go. Just talking to our medical staff, it is the best thing to do for another week.”

Already banged up, the Browns could be without top cornerback Joe Haden on Sunday. Haden has a new groin injury — he missed one game earlier this season — and has been limited in practice. Jackson said Haden got hurt “just running” in practice.

Hogan will be listed as Cleveland’s No. 2 quarterback, but wide receiver Terrelle Pryor, the former Ohio State and Oakland QB, could line up behind center as he did in Week 3 when he took 14 snaps against Miami.

If Hogan has to play, Jackson said he has confidence in the former Stanford standout drafted in the fifth round by Kansas City before being waived and claimed by Cleveland.

“Obviously, he has practiced and been in meetings,” Jackson said. “He has always been in meetings and real engaged, but I think he understands obviously there is potential he could go out there and play. That is a different dynamic for a player when you think through it all, and for me, as well. Last week, that was not the case. He was in street clothes. This week he will be dressed up, and he will be out there just in case things don’t go as well.”

Things haven’t gone well for the Browns since the first kickoff to 2016.

Quarterback Robert Griffin III broke a bone in his left shoulder in the opener; McCown got hurt the following week along with starting center Cam Erving, who sustained a bruised lung and is still out. His replacement, Austin Reiter, tore knee ligaments, and kicker Patrick Murray sustained a season-ending knee injury in practice. Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst injured his left knee late in last week’s game and was waived.

If that wasn’t enough, wide receiver Josh Gordon checked into rehab days before his league drug suspension was to end.

The latest setback is to Bitonio, who sustained a mid-foot sprain on the final play of the first half Sunday when the Browns threw a long desperation pass into the end zone.

“It was freak,” Bitonio said. “Foot got tangled up a little bit and I didn’t even go to the ground, just felt like, ‘Oh, that hurt a little bit.’ Then after the game, I went in and they checked it out and did some more tests and stuff, and we realized it was a little worse.”

With Bitonio out, the Browns will again be forced to shuffle an offensive line already struggling to protect the quarterback.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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