If there's a silver lining to the Browns' injury misfortune this season, it's that head coach Hue Jackson has gotten a look at one of the largest rookie classes in franchise history.
"We were going to play a lot of young guys, anyway," Jackson said last week, "but there are some guys that are playing maybe a little sooner than we thought they would."
That was perhaps most evident in this past weekend's loss to the Bengals, in which Cleveland started or played 16 first-year players.
The Browns, of course, opened this season planning to feature a handful of rookies. But injuries have unexpectedly cast some into the line of duty earlier than expected.
"That is part of it. There are some guys that are going to be better a year from now from playing, from getting experience of playing in the National Football League and playing in games and preparing and going through the process getting ready to play," Jackson said.
"We will be a little bit more experienced a year from now for that, but at the same time, you don't wish that to happen but it does happen."
On Sunday in Cincinnati, the Browns rookies combined for 420 snaps, led by left guard Spencer Drango (63 snaps), safety Tracy Howard (61), linebacker Emmanuel Ogbah (55) wide receiver Ricardo Louis (50), Carl Nassib (47) and cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun (42).
Here's a breakdown of that dynamic:
— Drango, the rookie from Baylor, made his first-career start on an offensive line that's had to reshuffle itself in recent weeks because of injuries.
"He did some good things. He is tough. He got hurt early in the game, went out for a play and came back really quickly," Jackson said of Drango, who played all but one offensive snap Sunday. "I really appreciate our guys, the want-to, the drive. He is a young player. He is learning how to play. He is playing his first game with as many snaps as he has ever played. He is a battler. I'm glad he is here."
— Ogbah and Nassib, who continue to emerge as playmakers on Cleveland's defense, combined for 10 tackles, 2.5 sacks and three hurries against the Bengals. Ogbah, the second-round draft pick from Oklahoma State, is tied for third among rookies in sacks (three).
"It felt kind of like a relief because I was drafted for a reason to come in and get sacks," he said of his increased production. "I'm just going out there to give my team the best chance to win games."
Jackson added: "He is doing some good things. There are some things that he has to continue to work at – play a little bit lower, play with his hands a little bit more – but his ability to rush the quarterback has shown up ... There is more for him to get, and I think he is just going to continue to get better."
— Coming into last weekend's game, Jackson made it clear the Browns young receivers would see their roles increased with leading receiver Terrelle Pryor limited by a hamstring injury. He was right as Louis, Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton combined for 90 snaps.
— In the defensive secondary, Howard made his first-career start with fifth-year safety Jordan Poyer on injured reserve. Boddy-Calhoun, whom the Browns picked up off waivers in September, continues to be a presence with Joe Haden in and out of the lineup because of nagging groin injuries. And Kindred, who turned heads with his big hit and durability, has taken the bulk of snaps at strong safety.
— At quarterback, of course, the Browns have been buoyed by the strong play of Cody Kessler, who's started the past five games, completing 67 percent of his passes for almost 500 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception. When Kessler went down with a concussion against the Bengals, fellow rookie Kevin Hogan stepped up and combined for 204 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown scramble that ranks as the longest by a quarterback in team history.
With New York coming to town, the Browns will continue to rely on their youth to step up and make plays in all three phases of the game.
"We are going to work. We are going to keep getting better. We don't like the situation we are in – nobody would – but the only people that can change it are the people that are in the locker room and the coaches," Jackson said.
"That's it. This is us. Nobody is pouring sand over our head or dirt over our head. We are going to go to work and get this thing better."