The Cleveland Browns will battle the Buffalo Bills without a Pro Bowl talent on their defensive line.
The team ruled out starting defensive end Olivier Vernon on Friday, as well as safety Eric Murray. Both are dealing with knee injuries. Safety Damarious Randall, tight end Ricky Seals Jones and offensive tackle Kendal Lamm are questionable.
Second-year defensive end Chad Thomas is expected to slide into the starting role with Vernon out. It will be Thomas’ first career start. He’s tallied eight tackles and one sack in his career. Chris Smith will also see time, as it will likely be a committee approach to replace Vernon’s snaps.
“He’s a leader on defense, but we got some guys behind him who we are expecting to go in and play well. They’ll get a chance to show what they can do,” Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens said. “Our expectations are high for Chad and their high for himself.”
Kitchens complemented Thomas’ motor, passion and anticipation, his understanding of gap control but the key will be consistency.
“It’s just a matter of doing it every down now,” Kitchens said.
Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said as much during his media session on Thursday before Vernon was ruled out.
“I have total confidence right now in Chad Thomas and Chris Smith and that those guys can step in there and get the job done if Olivier Vernon can’t go.”
Browns Running Very Thin at Safety
An injury to keep an eye on is Randall, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. With the team releasing Jermaine Whitehead following his social media tirade, Justin Burris and rookie Sheldrick Redwine would be forced into more action if Randall missed the game.
Murray — who’s mostly played slot corner this year — underwent knee surgery last week.
“I think we still got some guys back there that we have a lot of confidence in,” Kitchens said. “Getting Damarious back will definitely help, so hopefully we will see how he is this week.”
Freddie Kitchens Comments on Extension for JC Tretter
The Browns inked center JC Tretter to a massive three-year, $32.5 million extension on Thursday, with more than $23 million of that guaranteed, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Tretter was a 2013 fourth-round pick by the Packers, coming to the Browns in 2017 as a free agent. He hasn’t missed a start during his time in Cleveland. Tretter, 28, was in the final year of the three-year $16.75 million contract.
Kitchens said it was key to lock up Tretter so Mayfield can have some consistency under center.
“There’s a comfort level there that the center knowns what he’s doing, the quarterback knows what he’s doing and they can continue to get on the same page,” Kitchens said. “JC is a very smart football player…I think it shows you more than anything that we reward guys that play well here, are committed to doing what they’re supposed to do and buy in totally to the team-type concept. JC is all about the team, all about the fact that he wants to do what he can do to help us win.”
Next up is a must-win for the Browns against Buffalo at home. Cleveland is 0-3 at home the season, but are a 3-point.
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