BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Keeping slippery Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray under control is a difficult challenge for any defense — even in the best of circumstances.
The Browns aren’t at their best right now.
Cleveland had an all-star roster of injured players not practicing Wednesday as it began preparing for Murray and the unbeaten Cardinals (5-0).
NFL sacks leader Myles Garrett, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt were among a group of key Cleveland players kept off the field because of injuries. Coach Kevin Stefanski didn’t rule anyone out, but the Browns are missing vital pieces on both sides of the line.
“I don’t think we’re being cautious with any of our guys, I just think we’re trying to be smart about it,” Stefanski said.
In addition to Garrett and Clowney, end Takk McKinley and linebacker Malcolm Smith were missing from a defense that was shredded for 493 yards last week and gave up 26 points in the fourth quarter.
Garrett, who has seven sacks and been dominant all season, has been dealing with knee and ankle issues for weeks. The 2020 All-Pro end sat out two practices a week ago, but he played in Sunday’s 47-42 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Clowney, who has a long history of injuries and underwent knee surgery last year, was already dealing with an elbow injury and missed Sunday’s game after his knee stiffened during pregame warmups. Stefanski was asked if Clowney’s knee could be an issue before every game.
“I hope not,” he said. “Obviously he has an injury history there, but that’s just with any of our guys. When they work out pregame and they are feeling something, you’ve got to go with what they’re feeling. And he didn’t feel like he could go.”
Murray is off to an MVP-level start this season, and the Browns can’t afford to be without Garrett and Clowney to pressure him.
“Everybody is talking about it, the quickness,” linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. said when asked how Murray stresses a defense. “His ability to get from point A to point B, it will be tough to stop, but we are up to the challenge.”
Chubb rushed for 161 yards on Sunday and he and Hunt are the engines behind the league’s most potent running attack. Chubb’s dealing with a calf issue while Hunt, his sidekick, has wrist and knee problems.
The Browns have bigger concerns up front.
Starting right tackle Jack Conklin is sidelined with a knee injury while left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. returned to practice after missing Sunday’s game with a nagging ankle sprain — only to drop out in the early portion open to media members.
The Browns finished the loss to the Chargers without their starting tackles. Blake Hance started on the left side for Wills, and rookie James Hudson III came in when Conklin went down.
In addition, tight end David Njoku, coming off a seven-catch, 149-yard performance, has a knee issue. Center JC Tretter wasn’t on the field, but that’s been the case for weeks so he can get treatment for a knee injury.
Something positive did happen for the defense as cornerbacks Denzel Ward (neck) and Greedy Williams (shoulder) both practiced after leaving Sunday’s game with injuries and undergoing MRIs.
Also, rookie cornerback Greg Newsome (calf) practiced for the first time since missing two games.
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry is eligible to return from injured reserve after missing the past three games with a sprained knee. He worked out with a trainer on the field during Cleveland’s interview session before practice but wasn’t designated to return.
NOTES: Rookie LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah said he’s fully recovered after his helmet jammed into his neck while making a tackle and bruised his throat area Sunday. He was kept overnight in an L.A. hospital as precaution. … QB Baker Mayfield and Murray are close following their years together at Oklahoma. Mayfield said the relationship is ultra-competitive. “He might show it differently, but behind closed doors, he’s quite the trash talker,” Mayfield said with a smile. “Don’t let him fool you.”
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