Phil Taylor's not the easiest guy to miss on the football field, and Mike Pettine made that clear Monday after the Browns defensive line took a big step in the right direction.
Taylor, who was been rehabbing for months in his recovery from a knee injury, saw his most work yet Monday in 11-on-11 drills. The 335-pound nose tackle worked in the middle alongside Randy Starks and Desmond Bryant in sessions against the first-team offense. Rookie Danny Shelton rotated in and out behind him.
"I'm real excited," Taylor said. "Today was the most I've been so far. It was awesome."
This sort of work is all a part of Taylor's methodical plan to get back to the kind of player he was in last year's rout at Cincinnati.
A big part of that plan has included patience, as Taylor and the Browns have erred on the side of caution more often than not through the first two weeks of camp. Ishmaa'ily Kitchen and Shelton have been more than suitable fill-ins for 11-on-11 sessions.
"It's good to be back but there's no need to rush back and have a setback," Taylor said. "Just being careful, taking it slow and a day at a time."
Pettine said open, daily dialogue between Taylor and defensive line coach Anthony Weaver has helped lay out a plan for what he plans to attack at a certain practice. No matter how grueling the rehabilitation session is, there's no way to "simulate taking on a double team and having 600-plus pounds leaning against you," Pettine said, so that kind of transparency from Taylor has been vital.
"Just feedback from him that he is confident," Pettine said. "With that injury it will show up on tape, especially when they start to get tired. You can tell if he is favoring one leg or the other. I just think time will tell with Phil."
Perhaps the biggest thing motivating Taylor to return are the players around him. He described Shelton's on- and off-field energy to be infectious, while the offseason addition of Starks and return of injured players such as John Hughes and Armonty Bryant have provided more capable bodies in the defensive line room than Taylor's ever seen.
"We've got guys after guys after guys that can come in and won't miss a beat," Taylor said.