Harrison Bryant is ready to seize the moment, and he could get at least a few of them Monday against the Bengals as the Browns work through injuries in their tight ends room.
With David Njoku working with an ankle injury and Pharaoh Brown in concussion protocol, Bryant is the lone healthy tight end on the active roster. Neither Njoku nor Brown have been ruled out for the primetime matchup, but Bryant, a third-year vet, still seems likely to be the top tight end available for Cleveland as it heads into a must-win divisional battle.
"My goal every week is to be prepared to have an expanded role," Bryant said. "In terms of the game, you never know who's going to go down or what can transpire. Every week, I prepare to play every snap. Whatever I'm asked to do, I'm going out there to the best of my ability and help the team win."
Bryant has caught 14 passes for 114 yards this season and has been the second tight end option behind Njoku. A fourth-round pick from FAU in 2020, Bryant has been serviceable when called upon as both a passer and blocker and totaled six touchdowns his first two seasons.
He might not be changing the way he prepares for the game, but the Browns could change the way they typically deploy their tight ends if Njoku and Brown are both out. Cleveland has lessened the frequency of multi-tight end formations this season compared to past years under head coach Kevin Stefanski, but Bryant has still been given a decent portion of snaps so far this year.
If Njoku and Brown are out, the Browns would obviously look to call up at least one of their two practice squad tight ends in Miller Forristall and Zaire Mitchell-Paden, but they still could tweak portions of their offense that might only feature Bryant at the position.
"We're definitely ready for whatever scenarios unfold later in the week," offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "We feel good about the guys who are available, regardless of who it is. It may look a little different than it has in the past if those guys can't make it, but we still have confidence in the guys who we will put out there, and we will have schemes available for the people and the personnel we put on the field."
Van Pelt has confidence in Bryant, and part of it stems from one of the last games Bryant held a featured role as a top tight end.
It happened his rookie season — and it was also against the Bengals. In Week 7 that year, Bryant played 40 snaps against Cincinnati and caught four of his five targets for a career-high 56 yards and two touchdowns, the only multi-touchdown game of Bryant's career.
"The last time he played an extensive role was in 2020 as a rookie down at Cincinnati and really came out and had a really good game," Van Pelt said. "Oftentimes, he's not the No. 1 target in the tight end room just because of the guys who have been in that room before him. He will be the top guy if those other two do not make it to the game on Sunday. Excited for him. He works as hard as anybody."
Check out photos of players and coaches working to prepare for the teams regular season game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football
No Chase, no changes
The Browns defense isn't changing the approach in preparation for the Bengals despite the big news Thursday that hit their offense.
WR Ja'Marr Chase, the 2021 Offensive Rookie of the Year, will miss Monday's game and possibly several more games this year due to a hip injury. Chase had been QB Joe Burrow's biggest weapon through the first seven games and was poised to carry another big role in Week 8.
Browns CB Greg Newsome II said he was looking forward to going against Chase and was disappointed when he saw the news.
"I definitely was looking forward to that matchup," he said. "Hopefully, he gets well soon. I was definitely mad."
The Bengals still boast two talented receivers in Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, who each have the exact same receiving total this year: 455 yards. Each of them will have an elevated role in Chase's absence, and the Browns will still need to do their homework to slow them down.
"I think Boyd is the best route runner out of the three," Newsome said. "He runs great routes. He's the slot guy so he gets a lot of targets inside. A great third-down type of guy. He's one of those guys when you always gameplan Higgins and Chase, he seems to go off every single time so that is a guy you definitely have to stay on. With Tee Higgins, he's a deep threat because of his length. He catches contested balls and can still run really good routes. They have a great combination of really talented guys who can do different things."
Emerson takes rookie challenges in stride
Through seven games, no Browns cornerback has been targeted more than rookie M.J. Emerson Jr.
QBs have thrown his way 35 times this season, which is 10 more than Denzel Ward — who's missed the last two weeks with a concussion — and six more than Newsome.
Emerson, though, has risen to the challenge and shown plenty of promise along the way. He's allowed 21 of those targets to be caught and has swatted away four of them, which is the second-highest number of pass breakups among cornerbacks (behind Ward with six). He's been excellent in coverage and has earned a 73.4 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, including a 75.8 coverage grade.
Not too bad for a third-round pick from Mississippi State.
"He's very tough minded and very competitive," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. "He wants to be the guy to cover their best receiver. He has that type of mindset. I love that about him. It will help him get through this rookie year."