BEREA—No. 98 will be a sight for sore eyes come Sundays—that is, as soon as Pat Shurmur gives him the go ahead.
Phil Taylor could make his 2012 debut this week against the Chargers after missing the first seven games on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list with a torn pectoral injury. However, it's more than likely it will take at least a week of him practicing before the decision will be made to activate him.
Shurmur was asked if there's a chance that Taylor would play against the Chargers.
"(It's) very low," he said. "He's got to get out there and start doing his thing."
Taylor said he was glad to be back, but knows it will take a little time.
"It felt good to knock the cob webs out," he said after his first practice. "I'm just taking it day to day."
After the Browns host the Chargers this week, they host the Ravens the following week before they have a bye in their schedule.
Taylor needs to get back into getting physical and how long that takes is not known. He said he's been able to lift weights and maintain his strength.
"The biggest thing is to just get back to football shape," he said. "I haven't been able to be out there for a while."
"He's got to get out there and we'll see what he can do," Shurmur said. "This is not unique for a guy to come back at this point in the season and we've just got to watch him work," he said. "We've got to get him out there and let him practice, get him first into the swing of things and then step up the workload and see how he handles it. We'll see. It's reasonable to think maybe next week or the week after, of course, we've got a bye in there so we'll see."
Since Taylor began practicing Wednesday, the Browns have three weeks to activate him or place him on injured reserve.
The Browns could use a boost in the rushing defense, which is currently ranked 24th against the run. Taylor's projected counterpart at defensive tackle, Ahtyba Rubin has been battling a calf injury. After he missed the Bengals game, he returned for the Colts, but re-injured the calf after having just one tackle. Rubin's status for this week's game is uncertain, but he missed Wednesday's practice, which is not a good sign.
"I hope I can do a lot to help," Taylor said. "I am going to do what I do (best)."
Taylor (6-3, 335) sustained the injury lifting weights early in the offseason program and had surgery on May 16. He was placed on the Reserve/PUP list on Aug. 27. He was eligible to come off the list after the Bengals game but the Browns waited another week to allow him to start practicing.
Taylor played in all 16 games in his rookie season and registered 59 tackles, including four sacks. For his performance, Taylor was selected to the Pro Football Weekly/Pro Football Writer Association All-Rookie team. He also had a pass broken up and a forced fumble. Taylor's single best game was against the Jaguars last Nov. 20 when he had nine tackles. He was the Browns first-round draft choice from Baylor, selected 21st overall.
Rookies Billy Winn, John Hughes and Ishmaa'ily Kitchen have been filling in admirably while Taylor is out. Hughes, who was taken in the third-round has 16 tackles, including one sack. He started on game in place of Rubin. Winn (drafted in the sixth-round) and Kitchen (claimed on waivers from the Bills after being drafted in the fifth-round) have 11 tackles each. Winn has started all seven games and he had a fumble recovery and return in the win over the Bengals.
The addition of Taylor will take some of the pressure off the three first year players, who are at the point of the season that the fear of hitting the ‘rookie wall.'
"I think it's important that they keep pushing and be as ready as they can be for a one o'clock start on Sunday," Shurmur said. "It's fair to say the season adds up a bit on them and it's important they take care of themselves, so they can perform."
If Taylor and Rubin are not ready this week, Hughes and Winn will team up for the second week in a row.
Season Over for Fujita: LB Scott Fujita was officially placed on injured reserve, thus ending his season and possibly his career with what is listed as a neck/shoulder injury. Fujita joins LB Chris Gocong (Achilles) as two-thirds of the projected trio of starting linebackers that have ended their season on injured reserve.
There have been reports that the injury was career ending, but Shurmur wouldn't confirm that.
"I don't know that," Shurmur said. "I spoke with him this morning and I don't know that."
"Retirement decisions are personal," he said. "That's something the player and his family have to decide on."
Fujita, 33, finishes on injured reserve for the third-straight season since signing a three-year $14 million contract as an unrestricted free agent with the Browns, with $8 million guaranteed.
Fujita finished this season with just 14 tackles in four games, including a sack. He played just nine games in 2010, 10 games in 2011 and four in 2012.
Fujita was implicated in the Saints' Bounty Scandal and suspended for three games. However, after appeals, his suspension was reduced to one game and he was to go to a hearing with former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to determine if there would be any suspension at all.
Shurmur said the Browns will miss Fujita's experience, as he called defensive signals with LB D'Qwell Jackson.
"He was one of those guys who knew what was going on."
Fourth-round draft choice, James-Michael Johnson will assume the majority of Fujita's role. He missed the first four games with a rib/oblique injury. After playing special teams in his NFL debut against the Giants, he had two tackles against the Bengals in his first start and one against the Colts in his second start.
"The guys in there have got to play good ball and they've got to get each other lined up" Shurmur said. "The MIKE linebacker, D'Qwell Jackson is ultimately responsible for that and all the guys in there have got to play. That's how we do it, just like they did when Scott wasn't playing the last couple of weeks."
Johnson was slated to open the season at strong side linebacker in place of Fujita, when it was assumed he would serve a three-game suspension for his role in the Saints' Bounty Scandal. However, he suffered the injury to his oblique muscle in the final preseason game, which sidelined him for the first four games.
"He's getting better," Shurmur said. "I think he's having a little bit more production each week, having less bad plays."
Richardson Practices: Shurmur said that RB Trent Richardson went through the walk through practice with the team on Wednesday morning and he was on the field practicing in the afternoon.
Shurmur said he will evaluate Richardson this week in practice, once again, and play him if he deems him ready.
"I think what's important is if he's healthy to play, he plays," Shurmur said. "If they tell me he is at no risk to hurt it further then we're playing ball. As I watch him in practice, just like we watched him in the game, if we feel like that's something that we can and should do, we'll do it otherwise, we're getting ready to play."
Shurmur was asked how he'll know if he can play, given he seemed less than 100 percent against the Colts.
"That's where the relationship with the players help," he said. "I do know he's a competitor and I know he's going to try and convince me that he can play."
Some thought is to hold him out the next two games and with the bye week, let him get fully recovered for the final seven games.
"As I watch him in practice, if we think that is something we should do, we'll do
Captain Weeden: Shurmur said that rookie QB Brandon Weeden was selected as the fourth captain for this week's game.
Injury Update: RB Trent Richardson (ribs), WR Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring) and DB Tashaun Gipson (knee) practiced. DL Ahtyba Rubin (calf), DB Dimitri Patterson (ankle) were not on the field during the part of practice open to the media.
Tight End Production: Shurmur was asked if he feels he's getting enough production out of the tight end position. Between the three tight ends, they have just one touchdown.
"I feel good about the production we're getting from them," he said. "I feel they're doing what we ask them to do."
TE Ben Watson has 18 receptions for 146 yards (8.1 avg.) with one touchdown. TE Jordan Cameron has 11 catches for 128 yards (11.6 avg.) with no touchdowns. TE Alex Smith has four receptions for 29 yards and no scores.
"Our guys we're trying to develop them into three down tight ends with their blocking, especially with young guys like Cameron."