Rashard Higgins doesn't need anyone to tell him when it's time for him to step up.
At this point of Higgins' six-year career, he's always prepared to fill in when someone goes down. He's been the rescue man of the Browns' receiver room at several points of his tenure in Cleveland — most recently in 2020, when he caught four touchdowns and helped fill in for Odell Beckham Jr. when the star receiver was out for the second half of the season with a knee injury.
Two games into 2021, the Browns are calling on Higgins again.
WR Jarvis Landry was placed on Injured Reserve on Tuesday after suffering a knee injury in Week 2. Higgins is one of the next men up on the depth chart, and even though the Browns will welcome Beckham back to the field Sunday for the first time since he tore his ACL in Week 7 last year, the Browns will still need other receivers to carry big workloads against the Bears at FirstEnergy Stadium.
That news is nothing new for Higgins.
"I'm always ready," Higgins said. "Coach makes sure that we know every position when we go out there, just in case something like that goes down. Honestly, we hated for one of our brothers to go down but somebody has to step in and fill the role."
Higgins doesn't flinch, which is how he's kept himself in Cleveland ever since he was selected in the fifth round of the 2016 draft. He hasn't often been the top receiver on the depth chart, but the depth chart has never mattered to him.
This week, Higgins figures to be among the top receivers to see snaps against the Bears. Landry is out for at least the next three games as a result of being placed on IR, while the Browns will wait until Sunday to decide how frequently they'll use Beckham, who could be eased back into action as he plays in his first game in nearly a year.
Higgins stepped up in lieu of Landry last week when Landry exited on the second snap from scrimmage. He finished the game with two catches for 27 yards, and both went for first downs.
"I think that Higgins did a great job of jumping in there," pass game coordinator and wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea said. "He is a guy who really prepares very well. He works very hard at trying to know multiple positions. He was ready to go when he was called upon during the game from an assignment standpoint.
Higgins could be asked to primarily play as a slot receiver, a role Landry typically held. The Browns still will be solid from a depth standpoint with the return of Beckham and will continue to rely on contributions from their younger receivers in Donovan Peoples-Jones and Anthony Schwartz.
Higgins, of course, is always among the outside options, too.
He's always ready to play anywhere.
"It's just always having that underdog mentality," he said. "I have always been that underdog at life. To go out and try to prove myself, that is what I am all about. I want to prove myself. If I have to continue to do it each year or however the case may be, then I am going to continue to do it that way."
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Chicago Bears
Landry's leadership continues
Even though Landry was not out at practice this week due to his knee injury, he's still fulfilling his same leadership role in helping the Browns offense off the field.
O'Shea said Landry has still participated and assisted receivers in film meetings this week and has done all he could to set the receiver room up for success Sunday. Landry will miss just the second game of his eight-year career Sunday.
"Jarvis has been outstanding with us," O'Shea said. "Even though he's not physically with us on the field, he's in our meetings and is very engaged, which I expected him to be. He's been very helpful this week to the guys. He's been right there with them from a film study standpoint and has done a great job of being a great teammate right now. That's what I would expect of him right now, and that's what he's done. I'm very happy he's on our football team."
Defense embracing 'dime'
The Browns saw how opportunistic the dime package was for their defense last Sunday.
Safety Grant Delpit, who made his NFL debut after missing all of his rookie year in 2020 with an Achilles injury, was a crucial piece toward the Browns running the package, which features six defensive backs in one formation, "about 26 times," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. He picked up a sack and five tackles and helped the Browns generate some of their best defensive plays from the dime formation.
Delpit, though, isn't supposed to be the only defensive back to benefit from the formation. Denzel Ward, John Johnson III, Greg Newsome II or any of the other defensive backs can benefit, too, which is why the Browns are planning on leaning even more on the formation in the future.
"We're always trying to get the best group on the field and trying to figure out, matchup-wise, who that is," defensive backs coach and pass game coordinator Jeff Howard said Friday.
"Whether it's four corners, three safeties or whatnot, we're always looking at those matchups and seeing guys' skillsets, then trying to form a role for them so they can be successful."
With the entire secondary up to full health — and with Delpit showing he's ready for more work after a strong debut last week — the Browns believe more plays from the dime will help their defense turn a corner.
"I think what excites me about the dime is really those three pieces that I think our organization really values in John, Ronnie and Grant," Howard said. "Now that we have all of them healthy, (the package) is something we're really looking forward to using."