Muscle strain has Browns' Baxter back on bench

Starting right cornerback Gary Baxter, who missed the final 10 games of the Cleveland Browns' season in 2005 because of a torn right pectoral muscle that required surgery, will be sidelined for 3-4 weeks by a similar injury.


This time, however, the injury is to Baxter's left pectoral muscle, and has been diagnosed as a strain, not a tear. The injury should respond to rest and non-invasive treatment.

Baxter, 27, who has enjoying a strong training camp, sustained the injury in the second quarter of Thursday night's preseason opener at Philadelphia.

Cleveland officials are hopeful that Baxter, signed as an unrestricted free agent last summer to add playmaking skills on the field, and maturity and leadership off it, will be ready for the start of the regular season. The Browns host New Orleans on Sept. 10 in the season opener.

A five-year veteran who entered the league in 2001 as a second-round draft choice of Baltimore, Baxter bounced between cornerback and safety in his four seasons with the Ravens. Cleveland saw him more as a corner, though, the kind of physical player coach Romeo Crennel favored at the position, and signed him to a six-year, $30 million contract that included $10.5 million in bonus money.

Baxter's leadership skills were obvious in minicamps and training camp in 2005, but his season ended after only five appearances. He recorded 22 tackles and two interceptions in those five games but was placed on injured reserve after suffering the torn pectoral muscle.

The former Baylor standout actually sprained his knee last week in practice, and probably could have avoided the preseason opener, but felt it was important to get back on the field again after missing so much time in 2005.

In 59 games, Baxter has 275 tackles, seven interceptions and 36 passes defensed. He is a solid two-way defender, equally physical in coverage or in supporting against the run.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.