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'You've got to love your job': Browns LB Jacob Phillips preparing for return from IR

Team makes additional preparations for Ravens game
Jacob Phillips
Posted at 7:00 PM, Dec 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-10 19:00:58-05

BEREA, Ohio — The Cleveland Browns are set to take on the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday afternoon inside FirstEnergy Stadium for their second of two divisional matchups, and more so than ever, Cleveland's postseason hopes are on the line. With such a crucial game ahead of them, the Browns are gearing up their game plan, and there's one player in particular who hopes he's able to be a part of it.

Linebacker Jacob Phillips has been working for months on a return, and is hopeful that return comes Sunday. His coaches will continue monitoring him before making that call, but the return is expected soon.

“It's really not my call, but everything I've seen, he's on the right track. He's been working his tail off for months now to get back and to be close to being ready. Obviously, it could happen soon, but I'm not quite sure when. I've been really impressed with his work ethic," said Browns run game coordinator Ben Bloom on Friday morning before practice.

Phillips, a third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 1. and spent more than three months rehabbing a torn bicep tendon that required surgery to repair the damage.

It was believed Phillips could miss the entire season when the injury first occurred, but the linebacker worked through the injury and was able to make an earlier-than-anticipated return, designated for return from IR on Monday.

RELATED: Browns designate LB Jacob Phillips for return from injured reserve

Head coach Kevin Stefanski, who is the one to make the call after talking to medical staff, said that when they do activate Phillips, they'll be smart and safe with how they use him coming out of the gate.

"He looked good this week. I want to look at the tape and talk to the coaches about it, so we'll determine that later," Stefanski said. "Whether he makes it back this week or next week, in that first game back, we have to be mindful that he hasn't played football in a minute here. But he had a good week of practice."

Easing Phillips into practice is strictly about his physical health because the linebacker has been spending the past several months dedicated to staying up to speed with the team, even on the sidelines.

Phillips said that the work he's put in while dealing with injury is something that, to him, doesn't feel like much of a task, but rather something he enjoys doing.

"You've got to love your job, you've got to love coming here every day, especially being on the team that we have. Everything wasn't like a 'I'm forcing myself to do these things,' it's something that I truly wanted to do every day," Phillips said. "To eat good, to work as hard as I can when I came to rehab, when I worked out, to take notes every day, to watch film. Those are just truly things that have become a habit and I love to do."

Stefanski noted that work ethic, crediting Phillips for being so dedicated to the game and his team.

"He's been in every single meeting, he's been at every single walkthrough, he's come on the road with us so he's very indoctrinated to what we're doing and that's a testament to how hard he works," Stefanski said.

Defensive preparation
The Browns have until 4 p.m. Saturday to activate Phillips if he's to play on Sunday against the Ravens, but with or without him, the defense will look to replicate their success against the Ravens two weeks ago.

In their game before the bye, the defense intercepted Lamar Jackson four times. Ronnie Harrison, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Anthony Walker led the team in tackles with 14, 13 and 12, respectively. And of course, Myles Garrett sacked Jackson once, while Owusu-Koramoah and Jordan Elliott split a sack as well.

With Walker remaining on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, the Browns will look to a rotation that could consist of Malcolm Smith, Elijah Lee and Phillips, if he's activated.

Meanwhile, cornerback Greg Newsome II will not be available to play Sunday after falling and hitting his head at the end of Friday's practice, sustaining a concussion.

RELATED: Browns CB Greg Newsome II ruled out of Ravens game after falling, hitting head at practice

Garrett said on Friday after practice that preparation didn't seem as urgent as he might have liked, but followed his disappointment with optimism that the leaders on the Browns will step things up by Sunday.

"Not as much [urgency] as I wanted to. But we still got another two days. Guys will sharpen up and we've got leaders that are on this team who will make them get prepared and get ready for Sunday, because it's not end all be all today. But when the time comes, we need everybody on their Ps and Qs and ready because it's win or go home right now," Garrett said. "I'm not going to sulk or sink my head. I mean, guys go about things differently. It's not only on us as players, it's coaches, it's everyone having a focus on the task at hand. I think we all have to look in the mirror and say obviously if we don't win this one, there won't be any postseason for us. We've just got to come together tomorrow, today in meetings, and we'll get right. We've still got another 48-plus hours."

With playoff implications on the line, finding a sense of urgency might prove to be the most important thing the Browns can do before Sunday.

Special teams switch-up
Punter Jamie Gillan will also remain on the COVID-19 list for Sunday, so the Browns signed veteran punter Dustin Colquitt to the roster Friday and put him straight to work having him start practice getting reps as the placeholder.

Colquitt said the team told him one thing when they signed him: "Be ready for Sunday."

RELATED: Cleveland Browns sign punter Dustin Colquitt

Tight on tight ends
On the offensive side of the ball, the Browns are down two starting tight ends with David Njoku remaining on the Reserve/COVID-19 list for Sunday's game and Harrison Bryant still working through a high ankle sprain.

The Browns signed Miller Forristall to the active roster from the practice squad, an important move for an offense that has used 13-personnel with three tight ends on the field at a time substantially more than any other team in the league. While the heavy tight end usage might not be able to be featured as they normally would, Stefanski said they've been able to put together a solid plan knowing early this week that Bryant and Njoku would likely be out.

“I think the thing with the tight ends in particular, knew Harrison wasn’t going to play in this game, David was going to be a long shot, so early in the week we had plans that we don’t have those guys," Stefanski said. "Sometimes it’s more of a challenge when, after play one you lose a guy, so that’s kind of what we have to do as coaches is figure out who is going to be available to us on Sunday and plan accordingly.”

RELATED: Browns TE David Njoku to be placed on Reserve/COVID-19 list

Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.

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