Malik McDowell certainly didn't look like a player who hadn't played in an organized football game in nearly five years.
The former 2017 second-round pick was a force in the second half of Sunday's preseason win over the Giants and has since drawn praise from his teammates and coach Kevin Stefanski, who said he did a "really nice job." It was McDowell's first-ever NFL game action, as an injury prevented him from making his long-awaited return to the field the previous week in Jacksonville.
McDowell, whose multiple missteps prevented him from seeing the field during the early part of his NFL career, is doing everything he can to make up for lost time and impressing those around him in the process.
"He has been great," Stefanski said. "He has been great in the meeting rooms, around the building and out on the grass. He is in a really good place, works very hard and is very serious about his craft. I see him making strides every day working with Coach Kiff (defensive line coach Chris Kiffin) and working with (assistant defensive line) Coach (Jeremy) Garrett."
McDowell played 25 snaps Sunday, the bulk of which coming in the second half. He was particularly disruptive in the fourth quarter. He finished with five tackles, a sack and two quarterback hurries in a performance that resembled the kind of chaos he created at Michigan State, where he earned second-team All-American honors in 2016.
Now, McDowell has one more chance to impress Sunday in Atlanta before the Browns reduce their roster from 80 to 53.
"To see him out there making plays, his teammates were excited for him," Stefanski said. "He continues to grind. He continues to work at this thing.
"He had worked really hard when we got him in the building in the spring. Obviously, had a couple of injuries that set him back but stayed into it with the walkthroughs and stayed into it in the meeting rooms. He is a guy who is really, really battling. He is working very, very hard as we get through this training camp."
Check out exclusive photos from Wednesday's practice at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus
CB Denzel Ward and WR Anthony Schwartz were among a significant group of players back on the practice field Wednesday after dealing with injuries.
Also back in some capacity were S Sheldrick Redwine, WR Ja'Marcus Bradley and DE Porter Gustin. DE Takkarist McKinley, who had been back with the team after missing time for personal reasons, participated in his first practice since the third day of training camp.
Stefanski said he was "excited to see more" from McKinley, whom the Browns signed early in the free agency period in March.
"I think the thing that you saw on tape with Takk, certainly the thing that I have seen up close and personal, is how he gets off the ball," Stefanski said. "He is very explosive. He makes plays getting up the yard, penetrating and has a really good motor. Those are the types of things that we saw on tape."
Asked if any of the players would be ready to play Sunday in Atlanta, Stefanski said the team would make that determination as the week progressed.
Stefanski said the Browns continue to be pleased with WR Odell Beckham Jr., who is working his way back from last year's serious knee injury.
Beckham worked through individual and seven-on-seven drills at Wednesday's practice. He's yet to participate in full-team drills but has looked like his usual self whenever he's gone through various drills. The same can be said for how he's handled himself away from the practice field, Stefanski said.
"He has done a nice job in the meeting rooms and at the walkthroughs," Stefanski said. "He has a much better understanding in Year 2 of the scheme and that type of thing. He is getting good work in. It is work that happens in the building and out on the practice fields. It will increase as we go, but I think he is working really hard really everywhere, whether it is meeting room or stuff that they are doing in the weight room.
"I think it just keeps showing up that the guy is battling. He is working very hard."