Hue Jackson said he's optimistic that Browns wide receiver Terrelle Pryor will be able to play Sunday against the Bengals.
But Jackson on Thursday made it clear Cleveland will need its young receivers to step up with or without Pryor — who has yet to practice this week because of a hamstring injury — in the lineup.
"Those young guys, I have always said as the year goes along, we're going to need them to make plays, too," he said. "It's just too long of a season, too many things happen, but they're getting their opportunities now. They have to go make the most of them."
With Pryor's status uncertain, rookies Ricardo Louis, Rashard Higgins and Jordan Payton will be expected to play a larger role in an offense that's had to overcome a string of key injuries at quarterback and on the offensive line.
Pryor, who leads the Browns with 35 catches for 477 yards and three touchdowns, has been critical in helping buoy the group through those setbacks, establishing himself as one of rookie quarterback Cody Kessler's top targets.
And because of that, Louis, Higgins and Payton -- who would join veteran receiver Andrew Hawkins in the lineup -- could have big shoes to fill if Pryor is unable to go in Cincinnati.
Louis, who's seen his playing time increase in recent weeks, said he doesn't feel a "responsibility" if that's the case, but "it definitely opens a lot more opportunities for each and every one of us that is out there."
"I don't know if (Pryor) is going to play or not," Louis continued, "but that just means that we are going to have to step up and make more plays, show what we can really do."
Higgins, whom Jackson said he's "been dying" to see more of lately, could also watch his role increase this weekend.
"I feel like this is my time to step up, and coach is putting me in the fire," Higgins said. "He believes in me, and I am going to get the job done."
Higgins added: "(Jackson) drafted me for a reason so obviously he sees potential in me. I'm the man for the job so when my number is called, I have to make the play. I can't wait until Sunday."
The same goes for Louis, who has 13 catches for 146 yards, including a 42-yard haul against the Titans last weekend.
"We want to make the game fun. It is a tough game, a lot of adversity," he said, "but at the same time, you want to have fun doing it. This is the game that we love. This is football."