Defense expecting boost with return of three starters

The Browns are expecting the return of Pro Bowlers Joe Haden and Tashaun Gipson to the secondary, as well as linebacker Craig Robertson

BEREA—The Browns defense needs a spark.

They have given up no less than 24 points in the past five games, losing four of them. The task won’t get any easier as the fourth-ranked offense in the NFL comes to FirstEnergy Stadium.

The good news is the Browns should get two Pro Bowlers in the secondary back and a third starter at linebacker come Sunday.

“Joe Haden has cleared the concussion protocol and (Tashaun Gipson) will be back out there along with Craig (Robertson),” Mike Pettine said before practice Wednesday. “We have a chance to have all three back, which will be a big boost to us defensively.”

Gipson hurt his ankle against the Chargers and has missed three games since. He has 22 tackles with one interception. The Browns sorely need his ball-hawking ability as they have just four interceptions for the season thus far. Gipson was second in the NFL last year with six interceptions and has 13 in his career. 

Gipson is excited to be back and thinks he can make a difference.

"It feels really good to play the game you love," Gipson said after practice. "I feel I can make certain plays and I feel guys like Joe, Craig and myself can help a lot being back in there."

Gipson thinks he can bring his play-making ability to the Browns.

"Nothing agaisnt (the guys who've been playing) but I think I can make plays." 

Haden missed the loss to the Chargers with a rib/finger injury, then played the next week before suffering a concussion, missing the last two games. He has 19 tackles with two passes broken up.

The Cardinals are averaging 281.3 yards a game passing and are first in the NFL in passing touchdowns. 

“Carson palmer likes to push the ball down field,” Pettine said. “They do a lot schematically and have a lot of speed and pose a lot of problems for defenses.”

Larry Fitzgerald has resurrected his career and is fifth in the NFL in receiving yards with 46 catches for 622 yards (13.5 avg.) and John Brown has 37 receptions for 562 yards (15.2 avg.) with three touchdowns. Brown is 12th in receiving yards.

“I just think that group of skill players is playing very well," Pettine said. "It’s a good marriage of what they do schematically. I think the quarterback is very much in tune with those guys, and he doesn’t have any one favorite. John Brown is playing at an extremely high level. He’s one of the fastest guys in the league.

"It certainly presents a challenge for us to have that type of speed in your secondary," he said. "It’s a credit to how they’re (playing). The numbers back it up. I think they’re second in the league in scoring and gaining a lot of yards on people so it’s a big challenge.”

Pettine was asked if he thinks the pair can give the defense a much-needed boost. 

“They can absolutely,” Pettine said. “And we’ll be careful with their reps just because of their inactivity.

“We’ll make sure we’ll build it up before game day that they’ll be good to go,” he said. “We’re optimistic about Joe, now that he’s been cleared and out of the protocol but he hasn’t taken the field for awhile, so we’re certainly aware of that.

“Gip’s been out for a little bit, too,” he said. “We just have to be smart, be prudent, just between now and gamely in getting them the right amount of work.”

Extra Points

McCown Day-to-Day: QB Josh McCown did not practice on Wednesday and is “day-to-day” according to Pettine. 

“As we expected, McCown won’t practice Wednesday.” 

McCown said he is doing better each day.

"(I'm) getting better," he said after practice. "I'm feeling better day by day."

Asked if he thought he'd be ready by Sunday.

"We'll see," he said. "I feel better."

Pettine said that QB Johnny Manziel will take first team reps in McCown’s absence.

If McCown is unable to play Sunday, Pettine said he is confident in Manziel since he already has experienced starting a game in the win over the Titans earlier this season.

“(It) would give us some confidence if that’s the case for Sunday,” Pettine said. “(Against the Titans) he went through the week of preparation and took the game plan from practice to the playing field. He was interactive with staff and carried over to the game and we were fortunate to come up with a winning effort.”

Pettine said they’ll go through the week and see where McCown is.

“We’ll see where he is and at the end of the week and we’ll make a decision.”

Hawkins Down: Besides the return of Haden (concussion/finger) and Gipson (ankle) to practice, LB Craig Robertson (ankle) returned to practice. WR Andrew Hawkins (concussion) and TE Rob Housler (hamstring) did not practice. 

Others listed on the injury report were: DL John Hughes (knee), QB Johnny Manziel (right elbow), QB Josh McCown (shoulder/ribs), WR Marlon Moore (hamstring), DB Jordan Poyer (shoulder), LB Craig Robertson (ankle), DE Randy Starks (rest), OL Joe Thomas (rest) and DB K’Waun Williams (hamstring). 

Duke Excused: Rookie RB Duke Johnson was excused form practice for “personal reasons”.

Bowe’s Turn: With Hawkins in the concussion protocol, there’s a good chance that WR Dwayne Bowe will be active this week. Pettine wouldn’t say if that would be the case or not.

“Could be,” he said. “We’ll make that decision at the end of the week.We have a rough idea on how we think it will play out.”

Pettine sounded as though they will see how the practice week goes.

 “We’ll practice and our plan will be based on how practice goes.”

Pettine said that TE Gary Barnidge has been filling the role of a big target as a receiver because Bowe has been inactive in five of the seven games and has yet to catch a pass.

“We talked about from the beginning, wanting to have that diversity in receiver room with size and that’s where it’s been helpful that Gary has been able to step up and fill that big target void,” Pettine said. 

Pettine said that Bowe knows why he hasn’t been playing.

“Dwayne has a sense on what he needs to get done (to play),” he said. “We have conversations with our players and guys should have a good idea at all times know where they stand.”

Browns Lose Pullard: The Browns lost seventh-round draft pick LB Hayes Pullard after he was signed to the Jaguars active roster. Pullard had been on the practice squad and to replace Pullard, they signed DB Chance Casey to the practice squad.

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