Once upon a time, it looked like E.J. Gaines' season was over before it began when the Browns cornerback had to be carted off with a knee injury in training camp.
Now, Gaines — who healed up rather quickly from a knee sprain that proved to be not as devastating as it first appeared — is set to make his first start with the team since signing with Cleveland in free agency.
"It'll be exciting," he said Wednesday. "It's my first game out here, and these fans are wild. I haven't got to perform in front of them yet, so I'm excited to do that for sure."
Gaines replaces cornerback Terrance Mitchell, who had surgery to repair a broken wrist earlier this week. Mitchell left Sunday's loss to the Raiders on a cart and did not return. He was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.
While losing Mitchell, who had emerged as something of a playmaker for the Browns in recent weeks, is a significant loss, the Browns have preached a "next man up" mantra that'll get tested this weekend against Baltimore.
Gaines returned to field Week 3 in a win over the Jets and saw considerable action last week when Mitchell went down, recording his first interception of the season. Gaines, who has 36 starts under his belt, said he knows he'll have big shoes to fill.
"Terrance, he's a great player. He's been making plays for this football team all year, so that was hard to see that happen to him," he said. "So it's up to me now to try to get in there and make some plays. Also we have a great defense, so I know my guys will be behind me have my back and everything. So I'm excited to get out there and make some plays."
— Damarious Randall has been battling a nagging heel injury ever since landing on it awkwardly in a Week 2 loss to the Saints. While it's made the free safety a regular on the team's injury report, Randall has yet to miss a game and believes he can tolerate any discomfort moving forward.
"Everybody is different. Just the pain, I can tolerate. I'm going to try to do as much as I can," he said. "Just try to get as many mental reps as I can throughout the week."
Jackson said Randall was more or less playing on one foot against the Raiders and admired his determination to be out on the field with his teammates. "I just appreciate he's fighting through," he said. "He's doing a good job."
— Jackson said he expects quarterback Tyrod Taylor to suit up after missing last week's game with a back injury. Taylor, who started the first three games of the season before being replaced by rookie Baker Mayfield, will be the team's backup going forward. Taylor hasn't played since suffering a concussion in the first half of a Week 3 win over the Jets.
— Rookie running back Nick Chubb needs to touch the ball more, coach Hue Jackson said. "Just got to get him more carries," he said. Chubb had a breakout game in Oakland, rushing for 105 yards and two touchdowns on three carries. Jackson believes there's room for him to have a role behind starters Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson. "Have to do a better job of getting him a series or two," he said.
— Cleveland's special teams have struggled throughout the first month of the season, whether it's with blocked kicks/punts or its coverage teams. Jackson said he'll have a stronger hand in making sure the unit plays better. "I think I need to take my experience that I have and use it," he said. "My focus is getting the things cleaned up that we need to get cleaned up."
— Randall (heel), wide receivers Jarvis Landry (knee) and Antonio Callaway (knee) and linebacker James Burgess (knee) didn't practice Wednesday. Jackson said he has a feeling several of those players will be able to go this weekend against Baltimore. "We need them all back out there competing and playing," he said.
— A week after allowing 110 yards and two touchdowns to Raiders standout Jared Cook, Cleveland will face off against a younger, less-experienced tight end in Hayden Hurst, who's set to make his NFL debut this weekend. Hurst, Baltimore's first-round pick, has been sidelined with a stress fracture in his foot. If he can play, he'll join fellow rookie tight end Mark Andrews, who has 10 catches for 119 yards and a touchdown in four games.
"I think that they're very tight end heavy, more so than what we have played on offense. They do a good job of utilizing all of their tight ends and all of their skill guys," linebacker Joe Schobert said. "I feel like each tight end has a different type of skill set. They find ways, they scheme ways to take advantage of it."