Greg Newsome II didn't think he was at any risk of missing significant time when he felt stiffness in his calf midway through the Browns' Week 3 game against the Bears.
Newsome, a first-round rookie who already proved he could handle the tall challenges of being a starting cornerback, just thought he had a cramp. He told coaches he believed he'd be back in the game, but the pain continued to intensify, and Newsome didn't return.
"It started hurting more and I couldn't really run," Newsome told reporters Thursday. "It was kind of achy. It wasn't really one play."
The calf injury forced Newsome to miss the next two games, a period that felt much longer for him as he shifted focus away from his growth as one of the Browns' top secondary players into the never-fun processes of rehab.
Now, almost three weeks later, Newsome is back at practice and has a chance to return Sunday against the Cardinals. The calf is feeling better, and Newsome is doing all he can to work the rest of his body back into game shape for one of the Browns' top games of the season.
"I went out there yesterday and was able to run around a little bit," he said. "Rehab has been going great, so it's feeling good. I'm just taking it day-by-day. I haven't done too many reps yet, so I'm just trying to build up, and then we'll see on Sunday."
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Newsome was listed as a limited practice participant Wednesday and is one of several Browns cornerbacks who have suffered injuries in recent weeks — all cornerbacks on the roster made at least one trip to the blue injury tent last Sunday in Los Angeles. Cleveland listed three other cornerbacks as limited participants on Wednesday's injury report.
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods, however, is optimistic to have the group at full strength against Arizona. "Hopefully, yes" was his response Thursday when asked if he expects to have a full group of cornerbacks.
Having Newsome back in any capacity would be a boost to the secondary — he recorded two pass breakups in his first three games and was used on nearly every down before he suffered his injury.
Newsome felt as though he was showing improvements each week, which has made missing two games even more difficult. He's confident he'll be back on track whenever he returns, though, and commended the Browns' cornerback depth for handling things well in his absence.
"I knew those guys were going to be able to ball out," he said. "I know it's a very, very long season. Injuries happen, and I just have to stay locked in mentally, get back physically and I'll be ready to go."
Newsome won't be rushed back if he's not ready to return Sunday, but the Browns would love to have him as they defend against Cardinals receivers, a group that includes three-time All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins, seven-time Pro Bowler A.J. Green, Christian Kirk and speedy rookie Rondale Moore. It's been one of the most effective receiver groups in 2021 and is one reason why Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, currently sixth in the NFL with 1,512 passing yards, is an early candidate for MVP.
"They've got great receivers all around," Newsome said. "They have an electric offense. We have great players, too. It's going to be a battle."
Newsome said the decision on whether he'll play Sunday will come down to his comfort. After not being able to do much running, cutting and jumping, he's hoping to make the most of his practice time this week to get back to speed and be ready for Sunday.
But the calf is feeling better, and Newsome is eager to get back and continue to live up to the value he's shown the Browns so far as a big play-making cornerback.
"I know how my body feels, and I just have to have confidence and get comfortable out there," he said. "It's more so going to be proving it to myself over these next couple days."