In his first full game of NFL action in over a year, Reggie Ragland felt back to his old self last week against the Saints.
Not only was he playing a sizable portion of snaps in a game for the first time since last season, but he was also making good plays — and building one of the best performances by a Browns defender in the game.
Ragland, who was signed to the Browns' active roster on Dec. 7 after spending most of the season on the Raiders' practice squad, led the defense with 10 tackles and offered a strong first impression to Browns coaches in his big role with the team. His 33 snaps were the most he's played since Week 13 last year as a member of the Giants and the first time he's played any defensive snaps this season.
For Ragland, a second-round pick out of Alabama by the Bills in 2017, the stats felt secondary to the feeling of simply playing in an actual game again.
"I just wanted to go have fun and just play ball, get out and do what I've been doing since I was a kid," he said at his locker Thursday at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus. "Wasn't trying to do too much, I just wanted to go out there and make an impression on my team, show everybody I can play. I wanted to let the people upstairs who control everything know they made a good choice to come and get me from the Raiders' practice squad."
The impression was certainly delivered to linebackers coach Jason Tarver, who has led a room that has seen constant shuffling due to injuries all season.
First, Anthony Walker Jr. — a team captain and top defensive leader — suffered a season-ending quad injury in Week 3. Then, Jacob Phillips was lost for the season in Week 7 with a pectoral injury. Sione Takitaki was placed on injured reserve and ruled out for the year with a torn ACL in Week 13, and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 14.
The Browns added Ragland from Las Vegas on Dec. 7 on the same day Takitaki became the third starting linebacker to hit injured reserve. Tarver has been pleased with the way Ragland has quickly meshed himself into the team and learned the playbook.
"Reggie has a lot of experience at all levels — high level college football, high level NFL with a bunch of different organizations," Tarver said. "To his credit, he has an infectious personality. He knows when to focus. He knows when to keep things light. He knows when to say, 'I don't know that yet,' which is powerful because until we play, whatever time we kick off, 'I don't know,' is an acceptable answer when you get into a new situation.
"The first couple of weeks, he did a good job of just repeating the plays to himself. It's all different words. He has not been in this system."
Ragland hadn't taken that long of an absence from playing in games since his rookie season when he didn't play at all due to a torn ACL suffered in training camp. He was traded to the Chiefs the next season for a fourth-round pick and delivered a career-best year in 2018 with 86 tackles. He's since started games with the Lions and Giants.
To deal with the long wait between games and cope with the uncertainty of when his next opportunity would come, he relied on phone calls from his mom and close friends and family to give him support.
They all told him the same message.
"Just be patient," he said. "It's a long season. I talked to some of my friends who had been in the league, and they said 'When the time comes, you have to make the best of it.'"
Ragland adhered to that advice last week — his 91.7 overall grade from Pro Football Focus was the highest among all Browns defenders in the game — and his chances won't be going away in the final two games of the season. Cleveland needs him to continue plugging holes in the middle and help the defense close the season.
He's ready to make every snap count.
"Just keep putting good film out there and show people I can play the game, even if it's here or around the league," he said. "I just keep flying around and having fun, doing what I do, because you only have so much time to play this game."
Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the teams regular season game against the Washington Commanders
Petzing 'happy' for Dobbs
Just over a month ago, QB Joshua Dobbs was one of the players walking around the Browns' locker room and performing as the backup to then-starter Jacoby Brissett.
The Browns parted ways with Dobbs when QB Deshaun Watson was reinstated from his 11-game suspension, and he's since spent time on the Lions' practice squad and Titans. On Thursday night, Dobbs made his first career start for the Titans — who are still in the thick of the playoff race but without their primary starting QB, Ryan Tannehill — and gave them a chance to win against the Cowboys.
Dobbs completed 20 of 39 pass attempts for 232 yards with one touchdown with one interception and might've earned himself another starting opportunity for them, even though the Titans lost, 27-13. The score, however, was 10-6 at halftime, and the Cowboys didn't begin to pull away until the fourth quarter.
Browns quarterbacks coach Drew Petzing was pleased to see Dobbs perform in a starting role.
"Really happy for him," he said. "Excited for him to get that opportunity, and thought he did a good job in the very little I watched before going to bed (laughter)."
Gibson ruled out for Commanders
The Commanders listed two notable players with designations on their injury report Friday.
S Kamren Curl (ankle) was ruled questionable for the game while RB Antonio Gibson (ankle) was ruled out. Gibson had handled a big role in the Commanders' run game this season, although his role had decreased in recent weeks while Washington gave more carries to rookie Brian Robinson.