Jacob Phillips has missed a season's worth of practices but there's still time for him to get back in the swing of things and help the Browns down the stretch.
The second-year linebacker has been sidelined since the midpoint of training camp with a biceps injury. After undergoing surgery and logging months of rehab, Phillips returned to practice Monday, his first since being designated to return from injured reserve.
"Really excited for Jacob to be back out there in uniform and practicing," coach Kevin Stefanski said. "I think those are long ways away when you first get injured and you're spending time in that training room. But just to see him out there, I know that's just a great reflection of how hard he's worked."
The Browns have up to 21 days to make a decision on whether to activate Phillips or place him on season-ending injured reserve. He could return as soon as Sunday, when the Browns host the Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium, but Stefanski wasn't quite ready to set a return date.
"We'll work through that," Stefanski said. "Just wanted to put my eyes on him at his first practice, watch the tape, see how he's doing. But we'll make those determinations over the next few days."
Phillips was coming off a promising rookie season in which he started three games and seemingly played his best football at the end of the year. He led the Browns with 10 tackles in the team's regular season finale against Pittsburgh and was poised to take on a significant role in 2021.
Phillips was working as the second-team MIKE linebacker behind veteran Anthony Walker when he went down with the injury during the Browns' first joint practice with the Giants. Walker said it was "great to see No. 50 flying around" after Monday's practice.
"True professional," Walker said. "You talk about somebody that's ever since he's been out came in with the mindset that I'm going to help the team any way possible while also getting my rehab in and trying to get back as fast as possible to help the team.
"He's been a great voice for us on the sideline, helping us when we come off in practice, watching film, everything like that. He's been there with us every step of the way."
Working Through Options at RT
Stefanski said the Browns will continue to evaluate their options at right tackle in the wake of Jack Conklin's season-ending knee injury.
The Browns have primarily relied on Blake Hance, a guard by trade, to weather the storm of multiple injuries at both tackle positions this season. The only other player on the active roster to play snaps at right tackle this season is rookie James Hudson III, who started Cleveland's Week 6 loss to the Cardinals.
"With all of our guys, we are looking at what gives us the best chance, and certainly at the offensive line, you have to replace a guy like Jack, that is not easy," Stefanski said. "We are working through all of that."
Conklin recently underwent surgery on his torn patellar tendon and is "in good spirits," Stefanski said.
"We are looking forward to getting our eyes on him when he gets back," Stefanski said. "It is the next man up mentality, and then we have to make sure that we design a gameplan with all of our players in mind. That is what we are working hard on right now."
The Browns have been without Charley Hughlett for close to a week since the long snapper was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Stefanski said Hughlett is progressing, and the veteran certainly has time to return before the Browns take the field Sunday against the Ravens.
Hughlett, the second-longest tenured Browns player behind Joel Bitonio, hasn't missed a game since he took over the job for the 2015 season.
"Charley does a nice job," Stefanski said. "In that position, oftentimes you are not even sure wo the long snapper is – it is an anonymous position. He does a really nice job for us. He has done it at a high level. He is a leader for this special teams group so we are excited for when he can get back in here."
Stefanski said LB Mack Wilson is Hughlett's emergency backup if Hughlett were injured in a game.
Anthony Schwartz did not practice Monday as he continues to progress through the league's concussion protocols. The rookie wide receiver suffered a concussion on a kickoff return Week 10 against the Patriots.
Stefanski said it was to be determined if TE Harrison Bryant (ankle) would be placed on injured reserve, which would require him to miss at least three games. Bryant suffered his injury in the second quarter of Cleveland's loss at Baltimore after making the longest offensive play of the night.
Missing Bryant, who has 16 catches for 211 yards on the season, for any length of time is significant for Cleveland's offense, which runs more plays with three tight ends on the field than anyone in the NFL. The Browns don't currently have any other tight ends on the active roster beyond Austin Hooper and David Njoku.
"We will have to adjust," Stefanski said. "That is the conversation we are having. Where do you want to go with that? Who do you want to put on the field and how do you want to evolve your gameplan based on who is available to you?"