BEREA, Ohio -- Browns starting strong safety T.J. Ward's right foot remains immobilized inside a cast, leaving Cleveland's secondary with a very noticeable limp.
Ward missed his second day of practice Thursday with the injury he sustained last week in Houston, and coach Pat Shurmur said there's a "very good chance" the hard-hitting safety will not play Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.
"I don't want to rule him out yet," Shurmur said.
But that seems inevitable with Ward's foot still in a cast, just three days from kickoff. The Browns have not provided any specifics of Ward's injury or the results of an MRI taken Monday.
Ward's injury is the latest blow for the banged-up Browns (3-5), who had eight players sit out Thursday's practice with four others limited.
Cleveland's running attack has been slowed to a crawl because of injuries to running backs Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty, both of whom will sit out for the second straight game. Hillis has missed Cleveland's past four games, depriving him a chance to convince the Browns -- or a team in free agency -- that he deserves to be paid as one of the NFL's top backs.
Last week, the offensive backfield was weakened.
This week, the team's defensive backs are hurting.
Not only is Ward injured, but Usama Young, who splits time at free safety with Mike Adams, has been slowed by an aching hip that has kept him out of practice the past two days. His status is unknown for Sunday's game as is nickel back Dimitri Patterson, who didn't practice and may have to sit out his second consecutive game with a knee injury.
Young's injury could force the Browns to give rookie Eric Hagg his first career start. Hagg was inactive for Cleveland's first six games after undergoing knee surgery in the preseason. He made his pro debut two weeks ago at San Francisco and played in a limited role and on special teams last week in the 30-12 loss to the Texans.
Hagg has worked with the Browns' starting defense during the portion of practice open to reporters the past two days. If he's asked to start on Sunday, Hagg's ready.
"I've just been working hard, listening to what the coaches have to say, listening to the vets, what they have to say," Hagg said. "There's a couple mistakes out there here and there, but when you watch film, watch them on tape, get your corrections made, I feel pretty comfortable. I'm just learning."
The Browns selected Hagg in the seventh round. They had hoped to work him into their rotation earlier, but he got hurt defending a pass during a training camp practice and underwent surgery on Aug. 15.
Now healthy, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Hagg has been steadily getting better with every practice.
"Eric is one of our young players that improves and sees something new every day," Shurmur said. "He's a very aware guy. He's a physical tackler and at least the practices and competitive situations I've seen him in in training camp, we felt really good about the progress he was making in those competitive situations, which is pretty much the last time we saw him do that. We're anticipating he'll play well."
Adams has been impressed with Hagg's progress, and is confident he can handle starting if necessary.
"He's growing," he said. "It's just trying to get the game to slow down for him. Out there (in a real game) is 10 times faster than practice. Just getting the game to slow down for him and calm down a little bit. He'll be fine."
Ward has been playing well in his second season. His 35 tackles are third on the club and he's been making some of the teeth-rattling hits that drew the Browns to him and prompted them to draft him in the second round last year. Ward also excels on special teams.
"You don't want to lose anybody," said defensive coordinator Dick Jauron. "Unfortunately on any football team when you lose a starter it has an effect on the entire team because clearly somebody's got to move up and it affects special teams, and the whole thing gets affected as you move people.
"You don't want anybody out. T.J.'s a tough guy. They all are, but T.J's got unusual skills. He can deliver a blow, he likes to deliver a blow. He plays hard and he was moving along in the way we do things and doing a nice job. Injuries never come at good times, but it's not a great time for us or for him."
WR Mohamed Massaquoi continues to have post-concussion symptoms. He was sent home for the second straight day after not feeling well. Massaquoi suffered his second head injury in 13 months on Oct. 23 against Seattle. He missed one game, returned to practice last week but left the game in Houston after getting dizzy. "He's receiving the attention he needs from our medical people," Shurmur said. "We're doing everything we can to make sure he's going to be right." ... Kicker Phil Dawson was also sent home with a migraine headache, but Shurmur expects Dawson, who has made six field goals beyond 50 yards, to play Sunday. ... RT Tony Pashos (ankle), LB Kaluka Maiava (knee), DE Jayme Mitchell (chest/ankle) and DB Ray Ventrone (hamstring) were limited in practice.