Browns DE Olivier Vernon wasn’t active Tuesday during the open portion of the team’s only practice before Thursday’s showdown with the Steelers, but Freddie Kitchens said he was still holding out hope for the Pro Bowl veteran to return.
“I would not say I am optimistic, I am just kind of wait and see,” Kitchens said. “We don’t really know. Hopefully he wakes up feeling great.”
Vernon missed Sunday’s game against the Bills with a knee injury he suffered late in the action Week 9 at Denver. He’d been playing the vast majority of the snaps at the end position opposite from Myles Garrett. Chad Thomas filled the void against Buffalo and would be poised to do so again if Vernon is unavailable.
Vernon is third on the team with three sacks and had been playing some of his best football of the season before going down with the injury.
-- Kitchens said the team wasn’t ready to make a decision yet on rookie OL Drew Forbes, whose timeline to be activated to the 53-man roster comes to an end Thursday.
Forbes, the Browns’ sixth-round pick who suffered a knee injury in Cleveland’s last preseason game, was designated to return from injured reserve Oct. 24. He’s practiced with the team in the days since, but would have to revert to season-ending injured reserve if he’s not placed on the 53-man roster by Thursday.
“Drew has done an excellent job,” Kitchens said. “He has done a great job of carrying over things that he learned and his learning continued to improve, even though he was not on the field getting reps, so that gives him a chance, yes.”
-- Kitchens repeatedly expressed his appreciation for what the Steelers have accomplished since losing future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the season.
The Steelers are in the midst of a four-game winning streak that included a game in which their third-string quarterback, Devlin Hodges, started and multiple games without star running back James Conner.
“They have done it, not just this year, they have done it before,” Kitchens said. “What you want to do is be consistent over time and how you approach the season and they have done an excellent job of that. Mike (Tomlin) has done a tremendous job of just staying on task and staying the course. Any time things like that happen, you always have outside influence, outside noise and they just kind of relied on each other."
The Steelers have been driven by defense and are wreaking havoc on opposing offenses by forcing a flurry of turnovers. Pittsburgh ranks second in the NFL with a +13 turnover ratio and leads the league with 12 fumble recoveries.
“Any time you can have that many takeaways, they are doing a lot of good with their eyes, you can tell they do a lot of studying in the course of the week,” Kitchens said. “Well-coached defensively, linebackers, D-line, they do a tremendous job of creating pressure on the quarterback and in return it maybe makes the quarterback make decisions a little quicker than he needs to be.
“Overall, a good defense football team, one of the best in the league.”