CLEVELAND — As the Cleveland Browns prepare to take on the New England Patriots Sunday at Gillette Stadium, they hope to have rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah back on the field to help provide an additional spark to the defense that saw its secondary unit light up against the Bengals and hopes to build on that performance.
Owusu-Koramoah was designated to return from the injured reserve list Wednesday after missing the last three games with a high ankle sprain. While the team hasn't activated him and officially cleared him to play just yet, defensive coordinator Joe Woods said he looked good at practice and they are confident he'll be ready to go come Sunday.
"I am very optimistic he can play Sunday," Woods said.
Before Owusu-Koramoah sustained the high ankle sprain against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6, he was among the Browns' leading tacklers, posting 29 tackles and a tackle for a loss. He also notched four pass breakups, a forced fumble, and a half-sack in the opening half of the season.
The Browns were beginning to heavily rely on Owusu-Koramoah before the injury, ramping up his snap counts from under 50% to over 85% of defensive snaps in his last two games.
Owusu-Koramoah said that over the past two days of practice his ankle has responded well and now it's just about monitoring his progress as they determine if he's ready to play Sunday.
“I'm glad I went out there at least to go full speed and kind of test it out. We're still taking it day by day, but I definitely am looking forward to playing if I can this weekend," Owusu-Koramoah said.
Even missing multiple weeks, Owusu-Koramoah has been working hard to stay ready for his return, intensely studying the playbook and game plans so he can stay ahead of the rookie curve.
"I just color-code all my things and set them in different sections. All the main calls here. Man pressures here. Zone calls, pounds, fires, and things like that separated in different categories," Owusu-Koramoah said. "Making sure that you continue to stay locked in and still have that laser focus. It's the ability to set boundaries, set discipline, and set certain times with different things so you don't get out of whack during those free times. Just compartmentalizing, taking everything in different categories, and being able to make sure that you do everything that you need to do and pay attention to the details.”
Owusu-Koramoah is a student of the game and has his many notebooks broken down to help him get things in order and prepare for each game—including Sunday's game, should he be cleared to play.
“I probably need to donate to those nature companies because I use so many notebooks," Owusu-Koramoah said. "I have like five notebooks. I like to organize so much that a clean notebook almost helps me out a little bit more. That's how I do it. I'll have a notebook for this week, and I have a notebook for that week. For the Patriots, a different notebook."
Woods, like many Browns fans, are very excited to have Owusu-Koramoah's talent and knowledge of the game back with the team as they look to continue the efforts from Sunday's big win over the Bengals.
“Speed. Coverage ability. Tackling. Blitzing. Everything. He is a very talented player. There may be a little bit of rust, and we'll see where he is at as we progress through the week. I think he just adds another dimension to our defense for sure," Woods said.
Meanwhile, the Browns are also holding out hope that running backs Nick Chubb and Demetric Felton can be cleared from the Reserve/COVID-19 list before Sunday's game.
Both are vaccinated, so in order to be cleared to return to the team, they have to remain symptom-free and have two negative tests 24 hours apart. If symptomatic, the vaccinated player has to remain in isolation until asymptomatic for 48 hours and has two negative tests.
On Thursday, D'Ernest Johnson, the Browns lone running back not placed on the list, said he's ready to carry the workload in the run game if need be but said after talking to Chubb and Felton is still hopeful they have a shot at playing.
"Those guys, they're feeling good. Just hoping to get those guys back before Sunday," Johnson said. “It's an unfortunate situation that all of this occurred, but I just try to stay safe, keep my mask and just try to do all of the little things right.”
Offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said that they're confident in Johnson, who already proved his abilities against the Broncos under primetime lights with Chubb out with injury and Kareem Hunt on the injured reserve list, but also noted that they are holding out hope for Chubb to come off the COVID-19 list.
"Right now, all I know is there is still a chance. I don't know how large that chance is or when that chance is, but we will take as long as we need to and as long as we possibly can. We'll see what happens there when we get to game time," Van Pelt said.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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