BEREA — There were a lot of questions surrounding Browns middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson coming into the 2011 season.
Could the switch to the 4-3 be a better fit for him? Could he still make plays after nearly a two-year hiatus from football? Should they sign him to a multi-year contract?
However, the biggest question was could he stay on the field?
It's only been three games, but the answer to three of the above questions has been yes. Jackson signed a one-year contract for this season and he is most likely on the list of players they are trying to extend.
Jackson was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for September for his play in the first three games. Jackson totaled 30 tackles, 2.5 sacks, one pass broken up, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
He is tied for fourth in the NFL in tackles, while his sack total is second in the AFC among linebackers.
Jackson missed the previous 26 games in 2009 and 2010 after suffering two different tears to his pectoral muscles. He played the first six games of 2009 before getting injured and then tore the opposite pectoral muscle in training camp of 2010.
He led the NFL in tackles in 2008 with 188 tackles.
"We have guys up front taking on blockers and that opens up alleys for me and the other linebackers to make plays," Jackson said.
In Jackson's six seasons with the Browns, this is the first AFC award that Jackson has won. He is the fourth Browns' player to win the award since it was established in 1986. However, the last player to do so was Eric Turner in December 1994.
"D'Qwell got a nice honor," Pat Shurmur said. "It doesn't surprise me that he's playing at an extremely high level. Normally, when the Mike (middle) linebacker is playing well, it is a big boost to your defense."
Shurmur said he and defensive coordinator Dick Jauron decided Jackson would be the middle linebacker after watching him on tape.
"We did that before we decided who else would fit where," he said. "There was enough evidence on tape that he had the skill set. He's a fine football player. There's added value because he does a lot of other things so well."
Jauron has been impressed with Jackson's level of play.
"He's playing really well," Jauron said. "It's richly deserved. He's not doing it alone, but he's playing at a high level. He has a work ethic and quiet leadership about him and he's a very good player.
"All of those qualities are important. His outlook on life. He's an outstanding person and it translates to the field."
Shurmur isn't worried about Jackson's durability.
"That goes on that list of things that can be a concern, but you just line them up and just play," Shurmur said. "You just deal with injuries when they come."
"It's all hands on deck. If you have a starting Mike linebacker, he's a three down guy. He's our starting Mike, so he plays."
"I've been around enough to know that sometimes, (injuries) just happen," he said. "We counted on having him, but it was there that he hadn't played (in a couple of years)."
Jauron said he wasn't concerned that Jackson wouldn't be able to make the switch to the 4-3.
"(Linebackers coach) Billy (Davis) has done a terrific job in preparing him in this scheme," Jauron said. "Once you see him play, he has a great feel for the game and great athletic ability. If you don't know him personally, when you only watch tape, you can see he has a strong desire to get to the football. He can do that and everything goes from there."
"In what I've learned about him, when it was allowed I was able to visit with him," he said. "What I learned about him was mostly during training camp. He made very few mistakes. Just being around him you get the idea that he gets things. He gets the world and I am glad he's having success."
Jackson and the defense have a big task this Sunday as they try to keep Chris Johnson contained.
"I think about (Johnson) all the time," Jauron said. "He's so explosive of a runner and he can catch passes."
One of Jackson's many responsibilities will be to try and make sure that Johnson doesn't get outside.
"He's a slashing style of runner," Shurmur said. "That's the type of runner he is. If he gets to the perimeter, that's not good for the defense."
Gocong Signs Up for Three More: Linebacker Chris Gocong became the fifth current player on the roster to be extended to a three-year deal.
"He's a steady guy," Shurmur said. "I've known Chris since he came to Philadelphia. He has very good instincts and understands the game. We're glad he's going to be here for an extended period of time. When you have a bunch of steady guys, then you have a good team defense."
"(Gocong's) is doing very similar to what we did in Philadelphia," Shurmur said. "We tried to use his pass rush ability coming out of college. For him, as a pass rusher, he had to learn to be an off the ball linebacker like he plays here."
Gocong, 27, has nine tackles and a half sack.
Jauron likes the way Gocong fits in the Browns defense.
"I was introduced to Chris in Philadelphia," Jauron said. "He plays fast and has the size and speed and can move for the position. I am really, really happy with Chris."
The Browns have not officially announced Gocong's extension as he has agreed to the terms.
Pashos Up: All signs are that right tackle Tony Pashos will finally play his first game of the season. With the Browns having a bye week following this week's game, some thought is the Browns might hold him out until after the bye or continue to play Artis Hicks or Oniel Cousins. However, Shurmur said that's not the case.
"No. If Tony is up, he starts."
Pashos wants to play as soon as he can.
"Bye week or not, these games matter," Pashos said after practice Wednesday. "It matters to me, matters to the club. I want to be out there."
If Pashos steps back into the right tackle slot, Hicks would be freed up to possibly play left guard, but Shurmur said that rookie Todd Pinkston will continue at left guard.
"We won't disrupt the left guard."
All Hands on Deck: The Browns have all players practicing in varying degrees for the first time since training camp.
"We've had as many players out there practicing as we've had since training camp," Shurmur said. "That is a good thing."
Injury Report: Browns players listed as questionable are CB Sheldon Brown (groin), LB Titus Brown (ankle), WR Josh Cribbs (groin), DB Eric Hagg (knee), WR Mohamed Massaquoi (ankle), OL Tony Pashos (ankle) and OL Joe Thomas (knee). Probable are: LB Chris Gocong (groin), RB Peyton Hillis (illness) and WR Carlton Mitchell (finger).
Shurmur said that LB Titus Brown will likely not be ready to play since this is his first week back.
"He hasn't been out there for a while, so he's a guy we have to decide on," Shurmur said. "There's a good chance he won't be ready."
Shurmur expects Brown to back up Jackson when he returns.
"He's an important special team player and he backs up D'Qwell."
Home, Sweet Home: The Browns are going to try and win their second-straight game at home and establish a home field advantage.
"I am sensitive as to how important it is to win at home," Shurmur said. "I was happy when the crowd realized Mo (Massaquoi) caught (the game-winning) ball. That was special."
Jauron said he thinks the fans helped the Browns stave off the Dolphins on the final drive last Sunday.
"I thought the fans were outstanding," Jauron said. "You could feel (the excitement) in the air. It was exciting."