Mack Wilson’s gradual return to the defense hits its next step Sunday when the Browns host the Colts at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The second-year linebacker, who was an every-snap player for most of last season, returned to the field Week 3 against Washington and saw a sizable increase in his workload last week against the Cowboys. After playing just six snaps against Washington, Wilson, who missed most of training camp and the first two games of the season with a knee injury, was on the field for 27 of a possible 82 in Dallas. He picked up his first tackle of the season on a pass play against the Cowboys.
Wilson is among the numerous players who have rotated on and off the field for the Browns defense. Outside of a few players in the secondary who have played almost every snap, the Browns are relying on a strength-in-numbers system that Kevin Stefanski believes will pay dividends as the season continues.
"I think he is getting close," Stefanski said. "I think all the guys that come back, the game sometimes dictates the reps, but the way I look at it, we are going to need everybody. We are playing a lot of guys at linebacker. We are playing a lot of guys on the defensive line. We play a lot of guys in the back end. At some point in this year, we are going to need everybody to step up and play maybe a bigger role than they have right now.
"As it pertains to Mack, we expect his role to continue to grow."
No Browns linebacker played more than 80 percent of the plays in Sunday's win over the Cowboys. B.J. Goodson led the way with 64 snaps while Malcolm Smith, Sione Takitaki, Wilson and rookie Jacob Phillips all played fewer than 50 percent.
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods said he's focused on Wilson getting most of his snaps out of the team's base defense. The evaluation is ongoing for how much more work he'll get in nickel and the other packages.
"He is feeling a lot better," Woods said. "He is truly not 100 percent, I would say. He is still coming back from the injury but he is getting strong and stronger every week."
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Indianapolis Colts
DT Sheldon Richardson (thigh) returned to practice after missing Wednesday's.
DT Larry Ogunjobi (shoulder) and LB Tae Davis (elbow) remained sidelined.
CB Greedy Williams (shoulder) has been a limited participant for the past few weeks but has yet to be active for a game this season. Stefanski said Williams is "working very hard" to make himself ready for game action.
"It is just one of those injuries you can't predict it," Stefanski said. "He is disappointed. He wants to get out there. We are just trying to make sure that we are following the medical here. He is into it. He is engaged. Great to see him finally back on the practice field and around his teammates and all that, but I am hopeful that he is getting closer."
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said WR Donovan Peoples-Jones was in position to be the Browns' top option on punt and kick returns "right now" but indicated Ryan Switzer and others also could be in the mix.
Switzer, a veteran returner, was signed to the Browns' practice squad last week. RBs D’Ernest Johnson and Dontrell Hilliard are also options.
"We worked with Ryan extra yesterday before practice. We are going to continue to work with Ryan. He obviously has that pedigree, he has done it before and he has a lot of experience," Priefer said. "For right now, Donovan is going to be the guy today on punt return and kickoff return.
"We have several guys who can do it and help us when we need them to."
Peoples-Jones returned three kickoffs for an average of 24.3 yards Sunday. He took back one punt for 13 yards.
WR Jarvis Landry joked that he's fully recovered from the sore lat muscle he had from his touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr.
Earlier in the week, Landry posted to his Twitter account that it "feels like I pitched 9 innings."
"It is actually feeling better today," Landry said. "I am not lying to you guys. I literally had, like, two of the worst days of my life with my lat. It was sore, sore as hell."