BEREA, Ohio — As the Browns prepare to travel to the West Coast to take on the Los Angeles Chargers, they have some decisions to make on the offensive line, with Jedrick Wills Jr. and Chris Hubbard ruled out.
Wills has been dealing with an ankle injury he sustained in the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, playing through the injury the next three weeks, leaving games at points and, last week against the Minnesota Vikings, being carted off again.
During the week of practice, Wills did not participate.
The Browns were monitoring Wills but ruled him out Saturday afternoon.
The left tackle spot is the biggest question for the Browns heading into the game against the Chargers. Los Angeles has Joey Bosa on its defensive line. Bosa so far this season has notched 2.5 sacks, nine tackles, two forced fumbles and 23 total pressures. Pro Football Focus has Bosa ranked as the No. 4 edge defender in the league so far this season, one position above where they have Browns defensive end Myles Garrett.
With Wills struggling with the ankle injury, the Browns offensive line has allowed Baker Mayfield to be sacked 12 times. The number could grow Sunday without a strong offensive front.
Last season, the Browns relied on offensive lineman Chris Hubbard to fill in when guys went down, and he produced. But Hubbard has been dealing with a triceps injury following the game against the Chiefs, and so the next guys up are Blake Hance and rookie James Hudson III.
- Next Man Up: Browns guard Blake Hance is a small-town guy ready for big-time moments
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Stefanski said that Hudson has been working to be ready if they call his number to play in place of Wills.
"He’s working hard. He’s a young man that since the day he got here, he works very, very hard. He’s done a nice job," Stefanski said.
Offensive line coach Bill Callahan also praised the work that Hudson has put in, noting his preparation for big moments (like if he is to go against Bosa) has included guys of the same caliber on the Browns.
"I think when you go against Myles Garrett every day and Clowney every day, it’s a little bit different. That gives you a sense of, ‘I’ve seen the speed, I’ve seen the different changes of speed, I’ve seen the different moves and maneuvers that a defensive lineman can give me.’ He’s still young and he’s still learning, but at least he has exposure to it and he’s seen it so it doesn’t freak him out in the middle of a game. ‘I haven’t seen this move. I haven’t seen that.’ He’s seen the full repertoire, trust me," Callahan said.
Callahan went on to commend the versatility of Hance.
"You look at a guy like Blake Hance, he’s an interesting guy. He’s smart, he’s dependable, he can play across the board and not many players can do that. He can play the tackle position, he can play the guard position, he can play the center position, so he’s extremely versatile as an offensive lineman. Usually those guys are stuck into a two-way position, but he gives us flexibility across the board, which is a real positive for us," Callahan said.
Regardless of who takes the field at left tackle Sunday, Callahan feels prepared because, well, that's what he's been working for all offseason and early into this season. He said the questions at the position should not be described as instability.
"As a coach, you’re always preparing all your players to start. I always go by the mantra that there is no such thing as backups. If you’re in the line room, you’re a potential starter. You have to prepare like a starter, practice like a starter so it’s a seamless transition when you enter the game," Callahan said. "When those guys come in, I’m not nervous, I’m really confident that they’re going to play hard, they’re going to play well, they know what to do. That gives me great hope with these young guys, they want to play, they want to get out there and do their best. It’s a different mindset for us that maybe somebody else."
The Browns will also be without cornerback Greg Newsome II who was out against the Vikings as well with a calf injury.
Cornerback Greedy Williams, who started for the first time in his career against the Vikings, will likely get the start again against the Chargers.
Additionally, Clowney, Garrett, Tony Fields II, Troy Hill, Takk McKinley, David Njoku, Malcolm Smith, JC Tretter and Denzel Ward are all listed as questionable for Sunday.
Garrett, who was listed with a knee/ankle injury this week, said he's fully expecting to go and he's just been dealing with some "nagging pain" that he just wanted to get healed up a bit before Sunday's game.
"Fully expecting to go. It's been bothering me since last week. Had some pains then and even the week before. Nobody is 100% across the league. Just have to make sure I'm as close to that as possible and make sure I can be a positive force when I'm out there,” Garrett said. “When I go out there, it's at the back of my mind. I'm putting 100% out there, putting my body on the line and don't care about what happens to me—it's all about the team.”
Quarterback Baker Mayfield, who reportedly suffered a partial labrum tear in his left shoulder against the Texans and has been playing in a harness since, was not listed on the injury report and his team is confident the shoulder injury is not what caused his dismal outing against the Vikings last week.
Completing just 15 of his 33 passes for 155 yards and being sacked three times, Mayfield's day was tough to watch. Underthrowing the ball, overthrowing the ball, missing open receivers. He couldn't find a rhythm.
“I can’t speculate about what the concern would be. I’ll just tell you that he’s told you guys that it’s not a concern of his and I’ve watched him practice and he’s done a nice job," Stefanski.
Mayfield has refused to use the shoulder injury as an excuse for any poor performance and said he just needs to play better overall. His teammates are behind him fully and expect a bounce back performance Sunday.
"We're not too worried about Bake because we know he'll go out there and do his thing. Whether we attack them with the run game or he airs the ball out, the offenses will be just fine with those talented skill players we have over there," Garrett said Friday. "He's tough and he's not going to let anything hold him back, unless he can't walk."
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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