BEREA, Ohio (92.3 The Fan) – Some good news came on the practice field Thursday.
Tight end David Njoku, sidelined for over three weeks that cost him the last two games with a high ankle sprain, returned to practice.
Njoku went through drills and ran routes with ease during the portion of the session open to reporters and he appears to be on track to return for Sunday’s relocated game with the Bills at Ford Field.
Njoku suffered the injury at Baltimore on October 23 during a 23-20 loss to the Ravens.
Njoku is amid a breakout season thanks to increased opportunities within the offense. The 2017 first-round pick is third on the team in catches with 34 and yardage with 418 and he has scored a touchdown.
Feeling their pain – Defensive coordinator Joe Woods understands fans who are calling for him to be fired on social media.
“It is a part of the business. For me, you can’t let it affect you,” Woods said. “You can’t ride the emotional rollercoaster. I know what type of business I am in – it is a fair business – but we are in the business of winning, and right now, we are not doing it so that criticism is going to come.
“It is deserved in some instances. I promise you, I am trying to do everything I can to get the thing turned around, but we have to execute and we have to play better on gameday.”
Woods’ unit has struggled all season long be it early in the season with communication and technique issues in the secondary to now the run defense, which has allowed over 150 yards rushing in four of the last six games.
“Our mentality is always to try to play physical,” Woods said. “That is part of football so we talk to our guys about it all of the time. I think the nature of what they we redoing, you have a lot of stuff going across your face that I think just caused a little confusion for us at times. At times, we played really well. At times, we didn’t. Anything you do defensively, you want to be able to play fast and physical.”
Tough day – Since coach Bill Callahan came to town under Kevin Stefanski, the Browns offensive line has been as dependable as they come but last week’s loss to the Dolphins was a rare tough day at the office.
“It was probably collectively our worst game of the year on the O-line and just something that we don't want to accept,” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “It's unfortunate, you never wanna play like that, but we're real focused on just getting better, getting back to the fundamentals and just trying to take that next step as a group cause they're a good front coming up this week as well.”
The Dolphins sacked Jacoby Brissett three times and limited Nick Chubb to 63 yards and a score and Kareem Hunt to just nine yards on six carries.
“It was just one of those days again,” offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. “We had one earlier in the season where we just did not play our best. It was just individuals that each time throughout the course just added up to overall not what we are used from those guys. There is no one who is going to work harder to correct that than that group of men in that room, so I am not worried about that at all.”
Feeding Cooper – Receiver Amari Cooper once again had to answer questions about targets Thursday. In the loss to the Dolphins, he was targeted three times for 32 yards.
So what happened?
“I don't know,” Cooper said. “I caught all of them though, so hopefully that helps get more, but I don't know.”
Cooper continues to lead the team in targets (69), catches (42), yards (585) and receiving touchdowns (5). Van Pelt cautioned actual targets does not equate to the actual gameplan to use Cooper.
“A lot of those early calls where he is No. 1 in that progression, again, defense dictates where the ball goes,” Van Pelt explained. “We definitely have a heightened awareness of trying to get him involved early and often. Sometimes the defense doesn’t allow for that. Just because he was targeted three times, his number was called multiple times without getting the ball thrown his way.”
Sparkplug – Jerome Ford’s return from injured reserve last week provided the special teams unit with a rare spark.
Ford returned the opening kickoff 48 yards and four plays later, the Browns had a 7-0 lead.
“That was great. That is complementary football at its finest,” special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said. “We had the big return, and we score four plays later, kick the extra point, kick off and we down them at the 16-yard line.
“We need to do more of that, whether it is to start the first half, second half or any time during the game. We preach complementary football all of the time, and that worked out really well for us to start the game last week.”
Ford is averaging 26.7 yards per kickoff return this season.
“Jerome has really embraced that role,” Priefer said. “He has made some mistakes early in the year in terms of decision making, but he has improved there a lot. We talk about it all of the time. He comes up to my office, and we work extra two or three times a week to make sure he understands the different types of kicks, different types of returns and different types of situations that these guys are put in. The more he does it, the better he will get.”
Could Ford be a candidate to return eventually punts too?
“Maybe,” Priefer said. “He has good quickness, but I don’t know if he has that quick-twitch ability that you are looking for in a punt returner. We are going to go baby steps. We are going to go kickoff returner first and then kind of go from there.”
Quote of the day – “Stranger things have happened. That's just how I look at it.” Cooper discussing the Browns playoff chances at 3-6.
Injury report – DNP: S David Bell (concussion), OL Michael Dunn (back), RT Jack Conklin (foot/rest), DT Jordan Elliott (personal); LIMITED: TE David Njoku (ankle); FULL: C Ethan Pocic (ankle), RG Wyatt Teller (calf), LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (knee)
Up next – Practice Friday.