Anthony Walker Jr. wasn't afraid to admit he's had fun watching the Browns defense from the sidelines rather than on the field over the last three games.
Walker, a five-year veteran at linebacker, hasn't been able to play since Week 1 due to a hamstring injury that forced him to spend three weeks on Injured Reserve. In that span, the Browns defense has achieved a few historical feats — they've held an opponent to single digits in consecutive games for the first time since 1995 — and have quickly built a case to becoming one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Now, Walker is one step closer to re-joining them. He was designated to return from IR on Wednesday and was back at practice this week, providing the same positive spirit and teaching abilities that have already made him so valuable to the defense.
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said Wednesday the team would need to see Walker practice throughout the week before making a decision about his status for Sunday's game against the Chargers.
"It's been fun to watch," Walker told reporters Thursday. "The guys are clicking on all cylinders right now. Being able to stop the run and then rush coverage has been great, and getting off the field on third down. I'm definitely looking forward to keep trending in that right direction."
Walker's return will certainly help them continue to climb.
He played in 62 snaps, 95 percent of the defense's total snap count, in Week 1 before suffering his injury in practice the following week. His speed and tackling abilities were evident in that game alone, as he tallied a team-leading 10 tackles and played a large role in holding the Chiefs' rushing game to just 74 yards. Walker picked up where he left off from his four previous seasons with the Colts, where he recorded 90 or more tackles in the last year and stacked two seasons of 105 and 124 tackles in 2018 and 2019.
Walker continued to participate in meetings and maintain his role as one of the outspoken voices of the defense while on IR. He's one of the players who frequently speaks up in a meeting defensive players arrange every Thursday to break down film and ensure everyone is on the same page, and coaches and teammates have commended Walker for keeping an upbeat attitude and helping the defense make a remarkable rise in his absence.
"(His return) would be a tremendous boost," LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah said. "He has a lot of tackles in his career and has great insight as a veteran. He has a lot of scouting reports and is really good at watching film. We're always talking to him and learning a lot from him."
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Los Angeles Chargers
Walker believes the defense has taken massive strides since he was last with them in Week 1, but he also knows they have much more room to improve, too.
There's not any specific area Walker said needs improvement the most — his main reasoning is based on how it's only Week 5. Opposing teams are watching every play and formulating plans to crack their schemes and looks, and it's up to the defense to continue to evolve and find ways to stop them.
"We're a long way from where we want to be," Walker said. "If we are where we want to be right now, then that's a problem. We have a long season ahead, and hopefully playoffs and everything. We still have a lot of work to do, but we're trending in the right direction."
Having Walker back should help. He was selected by coaches back in training camp to wear the green sticker and relay play calls to the rest of the defense, a responsibility also bestowed on a player who can make small tweaks to his teammates' positioning based on how the opponent aligns their own formation.
Walker has been helping the Browns make those tweaks from afar. Now, he's one step closer to being able to do it in a much more efficient — and fun — setting: back on the field.
"You always want to be a part of it," he said. "I will always be that guy that will be the first one to help, cheer for everything."