1) Tashaun Gipson missed practice again on Thursday (concussion). Cleveland wants his league leading six interceptions on the field, but the club feels more than confident with his backups. Both Jim Leonhard and Jordan Poyer would split the role at free safety if Gipson is ruled out.
2) Speaking of Leonhard: please listen to the Houston Texans Bill O’Brien radio show. In the episode, O'Brien, the former Patriots assistant, gives nearly all the credit to Leonhard for when the New York Jets upset New England in the divisional round of the 2010 playoffs. During the week Leonhard suggested some different types of coverages to use against Tom Brady, which completely befuddled the offense.
3) "Apparently that was my first win as a coach," Leonhard joked in the locker room Thursday. "I was injured at the time and was helping out any way I could. Rex probably gave me a little more credit than I deserved."
4) On Thursday Mike Pettine said Leonhard does a tremendous job of putting out any pre snap fires. This is now his seventh year playing in Pettine's defensive system. There might not be a reserve player on the roster more seasoned than the 32-year-old.
5) Phil Taylor (knee), Jordan Cameron (concussion) and Johnson Bademosi (concussion) were the three others Browns players not to practice. Andrew Hawkins (knee/thigh) and Nick McDonald (calf) were able to practice on a limited basis.
6) The biggest injury news of the day comes out of Houston. Arian Foster (groin) was unable to practice for the second straight day. Even after a bye week full of rest, the Texans aren't sure whether the NFL's second leading rusher is going to be able to suit up on Sunday.
7) Which would be huge. Donte Whitner lauded how Foster is the engine that makes the Houston offense go. But he's just as focused on first-time starting quarterback Ryan Mallett.
8) "You can't do things that's not within the frame of the defense," said Whitner. "We have to wait for [big plays] to come to us…he might be a little jittery. He might make a few bad reads. If he does that, we do want to make him pay."
Video: talks to reporters on Thursday
9) Joe Haden is more focused on Andre Johnson, the eventual Hall of Fame receiver he will be matched up with for the most part on Sunday. The 33-year-old Johnson has 48 catches, 563 yards and one touchdown this season.
10) "He might not be the speed demon he was earlier in his career, but he's just physical and when the ball is in the air, he can make a play on anything," Haden said.
11) Why exactly have the Browns gotten better at running the football? It's been a timing thing, according to Pettine.
12) "A big point of emphasis with (defensive line coach) Anthony Weaver, is for those guys rolling off the ball," said Pettine. "Sometimes it's not enough to knock the guy back across from you. You kind of have to have that sense of timing of – when do I release off the block? You get some guys that do a great job getting knockback but then they fall off too late, and the runner's already gone. Some guys do it too early. I think our guys are doing a better job of developing that sense of timing."
13) Defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil called linebacker Craig Robertson one of the most loved players on the team. We will have much more on this story soon, but the resounding reaction we got in the locker room: people would lay down in the street for Robertson.
14) Loved this Kyle Shanahan quote on what Texans defensive end J.J. Watt does to the Browns preparation during the week: "He makes it more miserable."
15) Shanahan has built a reputation as a guru for running the football, but as he pointed out on Thursday, that wasn't always the case. In 2009, his second season as offensive coordinator with the Texans, Houston was number one in the NFL in passing and 31st in rushing. That's what makes Shanahan a successful coach: he finds his teams' strength and commits to it.
16) "It depends on your personnel. It depends on what your team does best. You want to try to put your players in position to be successful, and there are lots of ways to do that," said Shanahan.
17) Finally the quote of the day from Whitner.
18) "Work hard. Show up early. Leave late…[Being in first place] makes you want to work that much harder. We understand there's some teams right now in the National Football League that are thinking about offseason plans, shipping cars back and closing up apartments. We aren't thinking about that. We're thinking about winning football games."