The Browns haven't had to hop on a plane for a few weeks now, and they won't this weekend. That's the perks of a three-game homestand, which comes to a conclusion Sunday against the Dolphins.
We're answering a few of your questions before our third trip to FirstEnergy Stadium in the last few weeks.
Well, you might well not be able to answer this question, but I think it's among the most important matters facing the Browns this season. Given his outstanding performance on the field this season, why hasn't the Browns front office extended Joe Schobert for another four years or so? -- Charles C., Sheridan, Wyoming
These things take time and then, sometimes out of nowhere, they're done -- just like JC Tretter's extension earlier this month. This stuff plays out behind the scenes and isn't something that will receive play-by-play coverage on ClevelandBrowns.com or, really, anywhere else on the Internet. One news nugget from earlier this week: Schobert confirmed to The Chronicle Telegram his agent had been in touch with the Browns.
Needless to say, it's been a very good fourth season for Schobert, who is playing at a Pro Bowl level once again. Schobert's 92 tackles are far and away the most on the team, and he's coming off one of his best games as a Brown, when he intercepted two passes and picked up a sack in Cleveland's win over the Steelers.
"He is a student of the game," linebackers coach Al Holcomb said last month. "His football IQ is extremely high. He studies it, he works at it, he takes coaching and he wants to do everything that we are asking him to do. He wants to do it the right way. I think he has shown a lot of improvement just overall with his fundamentals, his technique and playing with his hands. His tackling in space has improved. Really pleased with where Joe is. Hopefully, he will continue to grow and get better as we get further into the season."
Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Dolphins Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey
Could we see a breakout year for Chad Thomas? -- Brent H., Worthington
Even before the Myles Garrett suspension, Thomas was playing well in place of Olivier Vernon, who has missed the previous two games and will be out again Sunday with a knee injury. He has three sacks and a fumble recovery one year after he was mostly inactive on a game-by-game basis. Now, without Garrett for the rest of the season and without Vernon for at least another week, Thomas will be called upon to be even better. As Freddie Kitchens said earlier in the week, everyone has to be just a little bit better with Garrett off the field. That definitely falls on Thomas, who will no longer benefit from all of the attention Garrett received on the opposite side of the defensive line.
The thing Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has liked most about Thomas is his performance against the run. Both Wilks and Kitchens have noted Thomas' improvements in a number of fundamentals. Now, he'll be called upon to be a mainstay on a Cleveland defensive line that will have to step up in a big way without Garrett for the rest of the season.
"I think he does a tremendous job playing the 6-technique … and I think he has been decent in the pass rush," Wilks said. "He is quick off the ball, and he has great acceleration."
Has there been a stated reason for flexing the Browns/Steelers rematch? Putting them into the 1 p.m. slot would seem to limit their national TV exposure. It seems as if it's a punishment of sorts. -- David S., Port Washington, New York
It's definitely not a punishment because these decisions are made over the course of a season. I think the easy answer for this is the teams' records. If both the Browns and Steelers win this weekend, Pittsburgh will be 6-5, Cleveland will be 5-6 and both will be looking up to the Ravens -- no matter what happens to them this weekend -- in the AFC North. Meanwhile, the Chiefs and Raiders -- whose game was moved into the 4:25 p.m. slot previously occupied by the Browns -- will both take winning records into their game next week no matter what happens to Oakland this weekend (Kansas City is on a bye). If the Raiders beat the Jets on Sunday, they'll be 7-4 and tied for first with the Chiefs in the AFC West.
Can you tell me when David Njoku will be able to return to the active roster? -- Mark L., Boynton Beach, Florida
Njoku is eligible to return at any point over the next couple of weeks, though Kitchens indicated Friday there wouldn't be a move before Sunday's game against the Dolphins. Njoku's 21-day clock started Wednesday when he was designated to return from injured reserve. If Cleveland doesn't promote him to the active roster by the end of that period, he'll be placed on season-ending injured reserve. The Browns used all 21 days before activating rookie OL Drew Forbes, who was the team's first player to be designated to return from injured reserve. That may not be the case with Njoku, but we know it will be at least another week as the team monitors his progress in practice.