Too late to make a difference this season, rookie tight end Martin Rucker will get a chance in the last two games to prove he can be a factor next season and for years to come.
Rucker will be the second-team tight end behind Darnell Dinkins on the depth chart Sunday when the Browns host the Bengals. It isn't so much that Rucker has improved as it is he and Dinkins are the last tight ends standing.
Kellen Winslow Jr. will miss his third straight game with a sprained ankle. Steve Heiden suffered a major knee injury Monday night in Philadelphia. He might not be ready for the opener next year; at this point there is no way to know.
"Martin has made strides since he's been here," coach Romeo Crennel said. "He's going to get an opportunity to make more in the next couple games. He's working a lot harder. I think he recognizes more now then he did at the beginning of the year.
"He's working with his routes, his blocking and also his command of the offense. I think one of his strong suits is his ability to catch the football and so all of that was evident in practice."
The Browns gave Dallas their 2009 third-round draft choice for the Cowboys' fourth-round pick in 2008 so they could draft Rucker as insurance in case Winslow held out or was injured. Winslow was in training camp from the start, but he will miss his fifth game Sunday.
Rucker caught four passes in the preseason opener against the Jets. His knee was injured in the next practice. He needed six weeks to recover, and that put him behind in his development. He has one catch.
"I looked at the guys in front of me as two great tight ends to learn from," Rucker said. "I've been watching more film and diving into the playbook even more than I was before. Hopefully, I'll be able to pick up the slack."
Rucker said he never had knee problems in high school or college.
The news is not as encouraging for the Browns' other fourth-round choice from 2008, linebacker Beau Bell.
Bell had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Thursday. He had surgery on his right knee in training camp. The Browns expect a full recovery.
Bell is a fourth-round draft choice from UNLV. He did not play on defense in any of the first 14 games and now he is on injured reserve.
When Bell was drafted, he was expected to make an immediate impact on special teams. But he appeared in only four games and all on special teams. He made two tackles. The highlight of his season was forcing a fumble on a kickoff in Jacksonville. Josh Cribbs recovered.
"I have to prove myself (next year) and show people I know how to play football," Bell said.
--TE Steve Heiden underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL and a torn MCL in his right knee Thursday.
--P Dave Zastudil has tendonitis in his right knee and did not practice Thursday. He is now listed as questionable for Sunday's game.
--LB Leon Williams has a sprained knee and did not practice.
--LG Eric Steinbach (back) sat out practice.
--DL Shaun Smith sat out practice with a calf injury.