Reporting Daryl Ruiter
BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – In a camp and preseason filled with injuries, the Browns are starting to get some good news – and bodies back.
Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, defensive end Frostee Rucker, tight end’s Ben Watson and Jordan Cameron as well as receiver Travis Benjamin have all returned over the last 2 practices.
With 11 players still sidelined for Sunday afternoon’s session, the Browns are hardly are close to full strength but they are getting closer.
The return of Jackson is a major boost to a defense that has been riddled with one injury after another.
“It’s unfortunate,” Jackson said. “It’s hard to say you expect injuries, but at some point in the season some guys may get nicked up. But other guys have to be willing to step up and fulfill that role.”
With the loss of Chris Gocong for the season and Scott Fujita suspended for the first 3 games, keeping Jackson, who was out with a sore shoulder since Aug. 7, healthy and available is critical to what has been a thin front 7 this preseason.
“It was just sore,” Jackson said. “And we had a lot of guys going down, and banged up so we took the precautionary route just to let it calm down a bit. So now I’m back and not looking forward to sitting back and watching games anymore.”
Jackson’s absence has been an opportunity for a pair of youngsters – Craig Robertson and T.J. Fort, who have both caught Shurmur’s eye on the practice field and in the first 2 preseason games.
“The good news though, while [Jackson] has been out, I’ve watched some young linebackers get in there and make the best of their opportunities so they can play around him,” Shurmur said. “That’s the good news.”
Besides Jackson himself, there was no one happier to see him back on the field than Shurmur.
“I’ve spoken numerous times about what he means to this team, not just as a player, but as a leader,” Shurmur said. “When he’s back out there, it adds to what we can do. Of course, we want all of our guys that we’ve slotted as starters to be out there working all the time and fortunately he’s getting back on the field.”
Rucker, signed by the Browns this offseason to a 5-year, $20.5 million contract, is working his way back from an injury to his right knee.
He participated in individual work for the second straight practice but hopes to be back to full strength soon.
“Camp injuries happen, stuff happens, but you’ve got to fight your way back,” Rucker said. “And that’s what I’ve been doing and I’m happy to be back and part of the team.”
With Phil Taylor out for the first half of the season, rookie defensive tackles John Hughes and Billy Winn have been getting plenty of work together.
Rucker has been impressed with them both and the competition that they are creating up front to make the team.
“They’re ballplayers and that’s why they drafted them,” Rucker said. “Everyone’s competing and everyone wants a spot. And when you have a hungry team like that, it shows on game day. And these last two weeks have really opened my eyes a lot, and I’m sure as well as the coaches. And it’s going to be some hard decisions.
“Those two young guys have really battled and they’re earning their way.”
Shurmur also likes what he’s seeing from the 2 draft picks on the defensive line.
“They are both young and they play hard,” Shurmur said. “They’re out here and everything is new and fresh and they’re playing hard and trying to learn as much as they can and I think that’s good. When they’ve gotten in the game, they’ve done a pretty fine job, so you just want to see them continue to progress. Same thing when they match up against different styles of offense.
“I think to this point, Winn and Hughes have done a good job of progressing and as you put the matchups together they’ll learn something new each time.”
Although they are young, Cameron and Benjamin are expected to contribute almost as much as the starters are this coming season offensively.
After nursing an undisclosed injury following the first preseason game at Detroit, some think Benjamin is a bit too small and may not be able to take the physicality of the NFL – but not Shurmur.
“I think he has come out and done the things you need to do as a receiver,” Shurmur said of Benjamin. “He’s naturally very fast. He’s displayed an ability to run good routes. He catches the ball, and what I’ve seen him do is catch the ball in traffic.
“I don’t know who was concerned, but whoever they were, you can let them know, he’s making good progress.”
Following Sunday’s practice, Shurmur hinted at more good news on the horizon – running back Trent Richardson could be back sooner than hoped.
“He’s getting better every day, so his progress has been outstanding,” Shurmur said. “He’s about where we thought he’d be at this point, probably a little bit ahead of that. So he’ll be out here soon.”
Richardson underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Aug. 9 and the team remains hopeful that he’ll be ready to play in the season opener Sept. 9 against the Eagles.
Should Richardson return sooner, that would be great news.