Olivier Vernon returns to his old stomping grounds Sunday in the midst of one of the best stretches of his nine-year career.
The veteran defensive end has registered seven sacks this season, and all seven have come since Week 8. Sandwiched between then and Monday, when he dropped Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson twice, was an AFC Defensive Player of the Week performance and an Ironman workload that's come as a result of a slew of absences and injuries that have decimated the Browns' depth at defensive end.
"It's just good to see him have success," Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. "I know everything that he went through last year with the injuries, he really did not feel like himself, he wanted to come back and prove what type of player he was and I feel like as of late, he is really showing up, just in terms of production, the pressure and the sacks on the quarterback. We just need him to continue to play that way."
Vernon's surge has been a big boost for the entire Browns defense, which has been forced to overcome injuries and other depth issues throughout the season. Cleveland has dressed just three defensive ends for multiple games during the second half of the season, and Vernon rose to the challenge during the two games in which Myles Garrett was on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
"OV has had some really good moments for us," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "He stepped up when Myles was out, which we really needed. He has given us some great reps. He is a physical player. He is very, very intelligent. We put a lot on his plate, and he is able to execute it just because he is a savvy player."
The Browns acquired Vernon in a March 2019 trade with the Giants following an injury-shortened season in which he amassed seven sacks in 11 games. That's where he stands today — one year after registering just 3.5 sacks in an injury-shortened season — with three games to go, and he's on pace to join Garrett as the Browns' first double-digit sack duo since Reggie Camp and Clay Matthews in 1984.
As for whether the scenery of MetLife Field will have any impact on Vernon, Woods said it's anyone's guess.
"He does not say much," Woods said. "But if he is thinking about it, he probably will not say anything."
Check out the best photos from the Browns game against the Baltimore Ravens yesterday by the Browns photo team
G Wyatt Teller (ankle) was set to miss practice for the second straight day but continues to make progress, Stefanski said.
"We will see where he is through the day," Stefanski said.
In the event Teller is unavailable, the Browns would again turn to Chris Hubbard, who was Teller's replacement when he missed three games earlier this season because of an injured calf.
Hubbard filled in at right guard and left tackle Monday while Teller and Jedrick Wills Jr. dealt with their injuries.
"He is a swing guy at four positions, and if you asked him to snap the ball, I bet he can do that as well," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "The value that he brings, plus the quality of play is very impressive. That is a guy that on a lot of teams would be a starter. So to have him in the bullpen ready to plug in any of the spots, it has been great to have him. And if he does have to go we will see. But we do not expect him to drop off there."
Browns special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said K Cody Parkey on Monday "had a bad night and he knows it" but likes Parkey's "even keel" demeanor as he prepares to be better Sunday.
Parkey missed a 39-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter and an extra point attempt in the third. It was just Parkey's third missed field goal attempt of the season and his second missed extra point.
"The key was there he made those last two – one to take the lead 35-34 and one to tie it at the end 42 all," Priefer said. "I was really proud of the way he responded there. He does not miss a beat. He is very calm and very collected. He has a very even keel about him, which I really like about him. Great kickers do not miss two in a row, and he had a bad night and he knows it. He is going to grow and get better.
"He had a good day yesterday and he is going to have a good day today, and he will keep getting better."