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LB James Burgess seizing opportunities with Browns, and another potential big one awaits

Within a span of four months, James Burgess Jr. was cut four times. By the time he arrived in Cleveland in late December, he'd seen four different locker rooms but never saw the field.

Month after month passed through the offseason, and Burgess remained a Brown. He got better, stronger and more comfortable with his role in Cleveland's defense. So when the Browns cut down their roster to 53 at the start of the month, Burgess nervously waited for a call that never came.

He'd finally made it.

Burgess celebrated with a phone call of his own, and he let it all out in a conversation with his mother.

"I called my mom and talked to her for an hour," Burgess said Thursday. "I told her about all the adversity, all the ups and downs. I was just really blessed."

Through two games, Burgess has used that blessing as an opportunity to show the Browns why he deserved his spot on the roster. After making big plays in each of Cleveland's first two games, Burgess could see a major bump in playing time, as veteran Jamie Collins Sr. continues his recovery from a concussion.

Collins didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday. If he doesn't participate in Friday's walk-through, he'd likely be ruled out for Sunday's game at Indianapolis.

"James is another one of those young guys who came back, had a real good offseason and we said, 'OK, let's give him a little more,'" Browns coach Hue Jackson said. "We did and then he earned more and he took more. Now, the guy is playing. He is a real important part of our defensive scheme and the things we do. He has done really well, and I'm happy to have him here."

Burgess said he struggled to hang with the Dolphins, Chargers and Jaguars because of his inexperience on special teams, a vital part of the game undrafted players, especially linebacker, must master if they hope to land a spot on a 53-man roster. Burgess didn't play much special teams at Louisville, where he started 41 games and compiled 263 tackles over four seasons, but he had to pick it up in a hurry in order to stick somewhere in the NFL.

He did that with the Browns and continues to do so, playing roughly 75 percent of the team's special teams snaps, while also making big plays on defense whenever the opportunity presents itself.

In the Browns' preseason finale, Burgess led the team with seven tackles, including one for a loss. Against the Steelers, it was a key pass breakup on third down, one of his nine defensive snaps. This past weekend in Baltimore, Burgess collected his first NFL sack on one of his 12 snaps.

"He has been stepping up. He has been making plays. You see every time he gets in the game he is making a big play," linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "He had a pass breakup and then he had a sack in the next game, so he is doing a lot for us - a lot well. And I can't wait to see him go out there and play."

Burgess knew he'd be playing if he could just crack the 53-man roster. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams promised all of his players that if they make the active roster on game days, they'll be used in some capacity.

Burgess isn't letting any of the chances go to waste, not after what he's been through to even reach this point.

"It's unreal. It's a blessing to be here," Burgess said. "I kept faith this whole time. It's a great feeling to know all my hard work paid off and didn't go unnoticed."

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