BEREA, Ohio--The Browns have not played with their projected full complement of their front seven the whole season. Injuries to Ahtyba Rubin, Barkevious Mingo, Jabaal Sheard, Quentin Groves and Billy Winn have kept the defense at less than their full arsenal.
Despite the injuries, the Browns defense is tied for the seventh-best in the NFL.
The return of Sheard from a knee injury should bolster the defense immediately.
"By having a full rotation will hopefully, make a difference with fresh fresh bodies going against the tackles," defensive coordinator Ray Horton said. "It will be a good upgrade for us on defense."
Sheard injured his knee in the third quarter in the third game, a win over the Vikings after he sacked Christian Ponder and forced a fumble, which he recovered. Sheard led the Browns in his first two NFL seasons with 8.5 sacks and 7, respectively.
"He's a very smart player," Horton said. "He's one of our better players, so to get him back and to get Quentin Groves back, it enables our special teams to play better and our defense to play better."
Sheard played his first two seasons as a defensive end in the 4-3, before being switched to outside linebacker in the Browns new 3-4 system.
"It really didn't surprise me because we felt like he could do that all along, Rob Chudzinski said about the transition. "He picked it up very quickly and a lot quicker than I expected or we expected. That was a real pleasant surprise. I thought he was really playing at a good level before he was injured. But I feel good about him coming back.
"It really helps us overall with him back because now we can get a good rotation," he said. "In the last few games when he was out and hurt, Paul (Kruger) and Mingo had to play a lot more. I think Jabaal being back is going to help all of us and all of those guys and get them in a good rotation and keep them fresh and at their optimal (place)."
Despite missing three games, Sheard has 15 tackles with 1.5 sacks on the season. He was in on sacks in two of the first three games and had two quarterback hurries in the season opener against the Dolphins. Sheard had nine tackles against the Ravens. Sheard should help improve the pass rush immediately.
"From a pass-rushing standpoint he has a variety of moves and he has power and he has the ability to get around guys," Chudzinski said. "It's something that he's developed over time. He's really improved in the things that he hasn't done, like dropping and those type of things. He understands the defense very well."
Sheard has also proven to be good in rush defense. Adrian Peterson's longest run against the Browns was just nine yards. Meanwhile, the Browns have given up their two longest runs from scrimmage while Sheard was out. C.J. Spiller broke loose for a 54-yard touchdown and Reggie Bush had a 39-yard run.
Mingo was out of place on Spiller's long run, but Chudzinski said the return of Sheard will help in that area, as well.
"Really, it's more of an issue of just the fits," Chudzinski said. "We have to be right on the money with our fits on those runs. It only takes one guy getting out of his gap. Sometimes, that's a matter of just not being there; sometimes, it's a matter of trying to do too much to go out of your gap to make a play and go somewhere else because you think the ball is going somewhere else. Against really good backs, they make you pay if you don't do it. That's what's happened the last few weeks."
Third Down Woes Continue: The Browns defense has been pretty good, but still have been vulnerable on third down. Through six games, the defense has given up first downs on 41-of-93 attempts for a 44 percent success rate.
Ray Horton said it's unacceptable.
"We brought this up (after) Baltimore and it goes back to one of my philosophies, the most critical downs," Horton said. "Statistically, we're grossly deficient (in that area). It's the second half of games from third-and-one to third-and-15…The game plan is pretty balanced in what we're dong. There has been more error in the second half than the first half.
"I'm used to (my defenses) to be either first or second in third down, so it's glaring for me."
Horton said he's broken it down to down and distance, but was asked what the main problem was.
"Not getting off the (field on third down)," Horton said. "When you look the major concern is from third-and-four and third-and-nine. That's where we've been grossly deficient. Its a great balance of zone. I keep saying it's us and that's what we're focusing on us and our detail. We have got to get our guys playing better. Nobody 's shocking us."
CB Joe Haden said that Horton is calling the right plays.
"It's us," Haden said. "We just have to tighten up. It's not the scheme."
McGahee on Side: RB Willis McGahee was on the stationary bike and on the side with trainers during the portion of the practice that was open to the media. DL Billy Winn (quad) remained out of practice. On the injury report were: LB Brandon Magee (oblique) was limited. DB Chris Owens (finger) and LB Jabaal Sheard (knee) were full participants.
The Packers have ruled four players out for the game: LB Clay Matthews, LB Nick Perry, RB James Starks and TE Ryan Taylor. They also had three players that didn't participate in practice: DE Mike Neal (shoulder), WR James Jones (knee) and LB Brad Jones (hamstring).
No Temptation: Offensive coordinator Norv Turner backed away when asked if he thought of switching to QB Jason Campbell.
"That's not my call," Turner said. "That temptation is not there for me."
Turner said that he sees QB Brandon Weeden improving.
"I see him getting better every day."
Turner was asked if he has seen other quarterbacks he's worked with make such a bad interception thrown awkwardly underhand as Weeden did against the Lions.
"I've coached a long time and that's not the first time I've seen that," Turner said. "(Weeden) feels worse than anybody."
Turner said that he could name Pro Bowl quarterbacks and Super Bowl quarterbacks he's coached make mistakes like that, but wouldn't disclose who he was referring to.
Johnson Damaged Goods: WR Charles Johnson was signed off of the Packers' practice squad last week, but the Browns found out he had a torn ACL, which will sideline him for the season. Because the Browns signed a player off a team's practice squad to their 53-man roster, the NFL rules say that a player must be kept on the active roster for three games. Thus, the Browns will have just a 52-man roster through the Chiefs game.
Johnson was a seventh-round draft choice by the Packers in 2013 and he was on their practice squad until the Browns added him on Oct. 12
Backing His Teammate: DB Joe Haden was wearing a Browns brown jersey during the open locker room time with 'Weeden' on the back and a numeral '3' on the front.
Haden was asked if he was making a statement regarding his beleaguered quarterback.
"No statement, just always buy jerseys when I'm out supporting my boys."