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Jedrick Wills Jr. ramping up practice work after giving Browns a boost

Wills’ availability for Week 7, where he played in all offensive snaps for the first time this season, was ‘a big deal’ for the Browns’ offense

Jedrick Wills Jr. has yet to experience an injury-free week so far this season.

In Week 1, he sprained his left ankle and exited the game early in Kansas City. In Week 2, he rolled the same ankle and exited early again. The same incident happened again in Week 3, and in Week 4, he stepped on someone else's foot and suffered a new injury to the same ankle, which forced him to leave early for the third straight week.

Nothing has been easy so far for Wills in his second pro season, but he isn't complaining — NFL players rarely make it through a season without injury. 

Wills learned that lesson the hard way. 

So after sitting out in Week 5 and 6, he returned for Week 7 and performed well, helping a Browns offense littered with injuries to other players find a Thursday night win against the Broncos.

"It's challenging," Wills said Monday. "It was just bad luck stacking on top of each other. I've never had any major injuries like this one that I had to play through, but I feel like everyone has dings and sprains they play through. It's just part of the game."

Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Broncos yesterday by the Browns photo team

Wills can count on one hand the amount of times he's been able to practice since he first hurt his ankle in Week 1, but after the Browns enjoyed a mini-bye week last weekend following their Thursday night win, he's feeling healthy enough to ramp up his participation.

His return, as well as the possible return of right tackle Jack Conklin, gives the Browns a shot to have their full slate of O-Line starters for Week 8 against Pittsburgh. Conklin, who missed the last two games with a knee injury, was on the field for Monday's practice and is progressing his way back to action, too.

"That offensive line, they play together as one," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "You always want (them together), but that's not always realistic in the NFL. Any time you can get the five in there, I think it's beneficial."

Stefanski gave Wills high praise, though, for attacking his rehab and making himself available to play in Week 7.

"I think Jed fighting to get to that game was a big deal," Stefanski said. "He has had some of those nicks and bruises, but I think he's better than he was last year for sure. I think he worked really hard. He understands the techniques that we're employing. I do think he's doing a good job."

Wills' injury has been an obstacle for him each week as he attempts to take the leap he and his coaches believe he'd make in his second season, and Thursday was a big step forward. He played in 100 percent of the snaps in a game for the first time this season and helped keep the pocket clean for QB Case Keenum, who was sacked just once all night.

A healthy Wills and healed offensive line would be great news for the Browns, who are awaiting further updates on the availability of QB Baker Mayfield as he nurses a left shoulder injury. Keenum, a nine-year veteran, had a smooth performance in his first ever start with Cleveland in Week 7, but the offensive line must again provide adequate protection for whoever is at quarterback against the Steelers in Week 8. 

Pittsburgh owns the sixth-best defense in the league and is third in the league in quarterback pressure percentage (28.8 percent). Pressure will be coming from all directions, and the O-Line — hopefully one that is fully healthy — has to be prepared to protect Keenum.

"They're a very good front," Wills said. "You have to be aware of where (defensive end TJ Watt) is at all times."

Wills admitted he wasn't at 100 percent yet and is still working to regain a grip on his fundamentals. That job has been challenging after only being able to practice in limited fashion once a week for most of the season, but since the Browns have 10 days between games, he's been maximizing the additional time to both rest his ankle and safely conduct reps to keep his game sharp.

"It's been tough all season," he said. "Offensive line is way different than playing any other position. It's just hard because you work on your technique every day, and there's certain things you have to do for a certain player and a certain game plan."

The good news for Wills and the Browns is that Wills is healthy enough to start ramping up his practice load and finally settle in. The Browns are eager to see just how high Wills can go in his development, and now that the challenges of his ankle injury are starting to fade, he's eager to finally lock into the O-Line and continue to prove he's becoming a better player.

"I can't wait to get the game plan on Wednesday, get some practice under our belt as a collective unit and see how it goes," Wills said.

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