Defensive end Olivier Vernon played like Myles Garrett in Garrett’s absence and was rewarded by being named AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
Vernon had three sacks, including a safety, five tackles and a pass defensed Sunday in the 22-17 win over the Eagles, which Garrett missed after testing positive for COVID-19 on Friday. The AFC award was announced Wednesday.
Vernon entered with two sacks on the season but dominated the action up front, much like Garrett has done all season. Vernon’s first two sacks came on third down and forced punts, and the third came in the end zone for two huge points in the third quarter.
He was the first player since 2014 to have three sacks and a safety in a game. The sacks matched a career high and were the most for a Browns player since Garrett on Sept. 16, 2019.
Garrett shares the league lead with 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. He’s already been ruled out for the game Sunday against the Jaguars in Jacksonville, so the Browns will again rely on Vernon.
“That is outstanding, I am happy for OV,” coach Kevin Stefanski said of the award. “And we mentioned, people have to step up. He stepped up and I am counting on him this week to do the same.
“I think he understands that it does not matter where he is rushing, how he is rushing, how he is playing the run, we need him out there and we need him to make plays and that is what he did in this last ballgame.”
Vernon has won three AFC player of the week awards — the defensive honor in 2013 and the special teams honor in 2012, both with the Dolphins.
Garrett in Week 4 and quarterback Baker Mayfield in Week 7 won the weekly awards earlier this year.
“Olivier Vernon — obviously, I have experience with playing against him when he was in Miami — he is a heck of a player, and I know he is just kind of coming off of an unbelievable game,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. “He can have those types of games week in and week out.”
NOT GETTING GREEDY
Cornerback Denzel Ward is week-to-week with a calf strain and could be placed on injured reserve, which mandates a player miss at least three games, Stefanski said.
“We will work through that but as of yet we have not put him on there,” he said.
Ward played all 68 defensive snaps vs. the Eagles, and Stefanski said he thought the injury occurred late in the game but didn’t know exactly when. Ward had an interception, three other passes defensed and a quarterback hit that led to linebacker Sione Takitaki’s 50-yard interception return for a touchdown. Ward leads the league with a career-high 15 passes defensed.
“Hopefully it is not an extended period of time because we love having Denzel out there to lock down whoever he is guarding or whatever half of the field he is covering,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “The next-man-up mentality, we have to have guys be able to step up.”
Greedy Williams, a second-round pick in 2019, won’t be one of them. Williams hasn’t played this year and remains on IR with a nerve injury in his shoulder sustained in training camp.
“I do not have an update. It is what it has been,” Stefanski said. “We continue to check in. He continues to rehab like crazy. He is working very, very hard.
“So again, I am disappointed for Greedy that he is not in there at this point, but I can promise you he is working very hard.”
Stefanski wouldn’t commit to who would replace Ward in the starting lineup opposite Terrance Mitchell, but nickelback Kevin Johnson could slide outside with Tavierre Thomas or M.J. Stewart Jr. moving into the slot.
Left tackle Jedrick Wills (illness), defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (ankle), Ward and safeties Andrew Sendejo (groin), Sheldrick Redwine (knee) and Jovante Moffatt (illness) didn’t practice. Stefanski expected Ogunjobi to practice Thursday and labeled Sendejo and Redwine day-to-day.
** Linebackers Mack Wilson, Malcolm Smith, Jacob Phillips and Elijah Lee, cornerbacks Thomas and Robert Jackson, defensive tackle Vincent Taylor and running back Dontrell Hilliard didn’t practice because contact tracing hadn’t been completed after linebacker Sione Takitaki tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday morning.
No high-risk contacts were identified, and the eight players are expected back Thursday.
** Strong safety Ronnie Harrison (knee), right guard Wyatt Teller (calf), right tackle Jack Conklin (knee) and center JC Tretter (knee) were limited.
** For the injury-ravaged Jaguars, receivers DJ Chark Jr. (ribs) and Chris Conley (hip), cornerbacks Chris Claybrooks (core muscle) and Sidney Jones IV (Achilles), left guard Andrew Norwell (forearm) and left tackle Cam Robinson (illness) didn’t practice.
Marrone wants to give rookie quarterback Jake Luton the chance to regroup, so he’ll start veteran Mike Glennon in his place against the Browns.
Gardner Minshew, who started the first seven games, is close to returning from a thumb injury, but Marrone wants to give him more time. He could back up Glennon on Sunday depending on the practice week.
Luton, a sixth-round pick from Oregon State, went 0-3, completing 54.5 percent for 624 yards, two touchdowns, six interceptions and a 54.5 passer rating. He threw four interceptions Sunday in a 27-3 loss to the Steelers.
Glennon (6-foot-7, 225 pounds) hasn’t played this year and hasn’t started since 2017, when he went 1-3 with the Bears. He’s thrown 31 passes off the bench in four games over the last two years. He’s 6-16 as a starter in his career.
“There is a lot of tape on him,” Stefanski said. “So I know our coaches are going to go back and watch it and kind of know what his strengths as a player are. But I would say it is not like an unknown player that you have not seen before.”
The Jaguars have lost a franchise-record-tying nine straight since beating the Colts 27-20 in the opener.
The Jaguars will be without defensive coordinator Todd Wash and two other defensive assistants Sunday due to COVID-19 protocols.
Marrone said the defensive staff will work remotely this week and he’ll run the defense at practice with the help of assistant special teams coordinator Mike Mallory. Joe Danna, secondary coach-safeties, will make the defensive calls during the game.
“They will have a different coach calling it, but I think their scheme is their scheme,” Stefanski said. “We anticipate that it will be very similar to the tape that they have shown so far.”
Marrone played offensive line and has spent his coaching career on offense.
“I’m kind of fired up to be on that defensive side of the ball,” he told reporters in Florida. “I’m going to have the music cranking today, my music I’m going to play.
“We’re going all ’80s, ’80’s, baby, ’80s. Now the players, I don’t know if they’re going to like it, but that’s one of the advantages of being the head coach.”
Garrett, left guard Joel Bitonio and fullback Andy Janovich were the leading vote-getters at their positions in early Pro Bowl voting.
** Stefanski planned to practice earlier than normal Thursday so players could get home for Thanksgiving.
** The Browns protected quarterback Kyle Lauletta, kicker Matthew McCrane, defensive end Cameron Malveaux and tackle Alex Taylor from being signed off the practice squad by another team this week.
** The Jaguars will use kicker Aldrick Rosas against the Browns after Chase McLaughlin was placed on the COVID list and will miss the game.