Browns coach Freddie Kitchens hopes to have David Njoku back on the practice field Wednesday but was reluctant to say if he expected him to be ready to play by Sunday.
Njoku, the talented third-year tight end, hasn't seen the field since Week 2, when he was upended in a painful collision that left him with a concussion and an injured wrist and, subsequently, landed him on injured reserve. Because he's missed eight games, Njoku would be eligible to return for Sunday's game against the Dolphins if the team opts to designate him to return.
Njoku indicated on his personal Twitter page that he was nearing a return, but Kitchens wouldn't go beyond saying he hoped to have Njoku back for Wednesday's practice.
"We have to get him on the football field and see where he is," Kitchens said. "I do not know that to be fact right now. I would like to see where he is at conditioning, physically and mentally. There are a lot of things that go into that."
Njoku had four catches for 37 yards and a touchdown before going down with his injuries. He was coming off his best season as a pro, when he caught 56 passes for 639 yards and four touchdowns.
The Browns are eligible to designate two players to return from injured reserve during the course of a season. Njoku would become the second if he is, joining offensive lineman Drew Forbes, who was activated to the 53-man roster before last week's game against the Steelers.
Check out photos of the Browns in action against the Steelers on Thursday Night Football
-- Kitchens said defensive end Olivier Vernon could be "very close" to returning against the Dolphins, his first NFL team.
Vernon has missed the past two games with a knee injury. Though Vernon wasn't present during the open portion of Monday's practice, Kitchens expressed some optimism about his status.
"I think it is going to be very close," Kitchens said. "We just have to play it by the end of the week and see where he is."
Vernon was a third-round pick by the Dolphins in 2012 and spent four seasons in Miami. Sunday would mark his first opportunity to go against his old team.
-- The Browns were down to their last two safeties by the end of last week's game, and they know they'll be down one big one for the foreseeable future.
Morgan Burnett is expected to be sidelined for an extended period with an Achilles injury. Burnett had emerged as one of the veteran leaders on Cleveland's defense and was in the midst of his best game of the season when he went down with the injury.
"He has just so many capabilities that you can't replace, and so from that standpoint, we are going to have to have a younger guy or some of the guys that we have been playing, they are going to have to step up and play big and this is the opportunity that they have been given," cornerback T.J. Carrie said. "We need to maximize that opportunity from every standpoint. Can't replace guys like that. All you can do is continue to corral yourself and look at yourself."
The Browns were already without Eric Murray, who underwent knee surgery earlier this month and has missed the past three games. They were also missing Damarious Randall during most of the second half against Pittsburgh because of his ejection for unnecessary roughness. That meant Juston Burris and rookie Sheldrick Redwine were the last men standing at the back of Cleveland's secondary.
"Morgan is kind of a leader over there in there in the secondary, and he will be missed," Kitchens said. "We have some other guys back there that have played some snaps, and we feel total confidence in them. Morgan was a good football player for us."