Fueled by lobster mashed potatoes and a grueling rehab schedule, linebacker Karlos Dansby hopes to take the field Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Dansby, who is arguably the Browns' most versatile and reliable defender, suffered an MCL injury in his knee Nov. 16 against the Houston Texans.
On Wednesday, Dansby told reporters his knee feels "awesome" and he considers himself probable to run out of the tunnel in the regular season finale at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Craig Robertson and Chris Kirksey have filled in admirably in Dansby's absence, both in coverage and against the run. But Dansby's return is more than just another playmaker on the field – it's his intangibles, leadership and big-game experience the Browns will need down the stretch.
Even though he's been injured, Dansby's still been vocal, leading the players-only meetings on Fridays. His message: The playoffs have already started for the Cleveland Browns.
"If you're not ratcheted up just off the fact that we have a chance to still get our goals, then you shouldn't be playing this game," Dansby said matter-of-factly. "We play this game to win; to get into the playoffs; to get the opportunity at that one goal, and that's the Super Bowl. We got a shot. It's do or die. Every game is a must-win."
Dansby's impact in 2014 is difficult to even measure. Coaches have joked (slightly) that Dansby would play in the NFL for free – he loves the pure sport of football that much. Others on defense, and offense for that matter, have adopted Dansby's approach, obsessing over the game while also remaining compassionate about living out their dreams.
Even though he's missed the last three games, Dansby still ranks second on the Browns in tackles (73), only trailing fellow newcomer Donte Whitner. His seven tackles for loss are still best on the team.
Getting Dansby back on Sunday will be a lift for Cleveland – physically and emotionally.
Video: Safety on the Browns' dominant defense
Two things I wonder
I wonder … How much read-option will the Browns use with Duke Johnson Jr.. It's a wrinkle that wasn't used much with Brian Hoyer because defenses knew the veteran pocket passer wasn't a true threat with his legs. Manziel changes that calculation, possibly becoming the second-fastest player on offense behind Josh Gordon. I think using the read-option 10-12 times against the Bengals will freeze linebackers and open up more running lanes for running backs Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell.
I wonder … how much the Bengals are going to alter their defensive strategy. Cincinnati has not been able to generate much pressure at all this season, tying for dead last in the NFL with only 15 sacks. As the Bengals sit in first place of the AFC North, do they trot out their normal defense, or try and send packages full of blitzers to fluster Manziel? It's a tough call for Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. I'd bet they dramatically alter the scheme this week for two reasons: Cincinnati ranks 28th in total defense (so why not?) and new looks give it the best chance of confusing the Browns' rookie quarterback.