CLEVELAND — Less than a month after losing left tackle Joe Thomas, the Browns are faced with another season-ending injury to one of their captains and best players.
They learned on Monday they'll be without linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. for the rest of the year because of an MCL injury he suffered in Sunday's loss to the Lions.
Collins, a Pro Bowler and key cog of Cleveland's young defense, intercepted Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford on the game's second defensive series before crumpling almost immediately to the turf.
"He's a big-time player," head coach Hue Jackson said. "When he got hurt, he got a pick, which led to a touchdown for us. I think he was right on the cusp of making those special plays that we anticipated he would make."
Instead, the Browns defense — which has been a bright spot amid a winless start — will have to overcome the reality of losing another veteran leader.
That march forward starts this weekend against a Jaguars team that has won four of its past five games.
"It's tough. You're losing your captain, one of your playmakers out there on the defense. It is tough to see him go down, especially after the play that he made, is definitely devastating to see," linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "I know Jamie. He's a guy who thinks positively and is encouraging. We're going to stand behind my brother and next man up."
That next man up is linebacker James Burgess Jr., who filled in earlier this year when Collins missed three games because of a concussion. "Whenever his name is called, whenever his number is called, he's always ready to go out there and make a play," Kirksey said. "I believe the first time that Jamie was out for some time, Burg stepped right in and he was getting the TFLs, PBUs, sacks and things like that. He definitely knows what he is doing."
To be certain, there's no replacing Collins' experience and leadership. The fifth-year linebacker spent his first three-and-a-half seasons in New England, winning a Super Bowl with the Patriots in 2014.
"He takes football seriously, and I think people respect him because he talks less and does more. I think his game speaks for itself. He's just always constantly teaching guys the knowledge of the game, and that's something that you really can enjoy being around because he won the games, he has gone to the Super Bowl and he has gone to the Pro Bowl," Kirksey said.
"A lot of guys want to reach those goals and he did it all. He has a lot of knowledge that he can pass down coming from New England and coming from a winning program. He has a lot of knowledge and guys are eager and are willing to listen to."
"There are not a lot of guys in this locker room who have won the way he has won. I am sure it is going to be a big blow to this defense," rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer added, "but I think that this defense has shown week in and week out that with the multiple injuries that we have gone through this season that we are going to be able to step up in that this position."
And though the Browns hope that's the case, they'll move forward knowing they've lost one of their most important figures.
"He's a tremendous guy in the locker room, on the practice field, how he works and how he leads," Jackson said. "We love him as a player. We will miss him."