BEREA — The Browns may be forced to shuffle the lineup and adjust the offensive plan after a late-week injury to No. 1 wideout Amari Cooper.
He left practice and went inside Saturday — the final full practice — with a groin injury and was listed as questionable for Monday night in Pittsburgh. If he can’t play, that would be a significant blow. He led the team last season with 78 catches for 1,160 yards and nine touchdowns, starting all 17 games.
Coach Kevin Stefanski said Cooper “aggravated” the injury, but he hadn’t been listed on the injury report. He was slowed for the last month last season with a core muscle injury that required offseason surgery, and Stefanski said he didn’t know if they were related.
He said it wasn’t connected to the muscle tweak that kept Cooper out of practice early in training camp. Cooper told The Chronicle-Telegram later in camp that was a slight glut injury.
Stefanski said it was too early to have a sense whether Cooper would be able to face the Steelers.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “It just happened, don’t have enough information to say.
“We’ll see how he does over the next 48 hours.”
Cooper, 29, had three catches for 37 yards in the 24-3 opening win over the Bengals. He left temporarily after slipping on the wet turf and grabbing his knee but said Thursday he was good.
If Cooper is sidelined or slowed, Elijah Moore, Donovan Peoples-Jones, Marquise Goodwin, rookie Cedric Tillman and David Bell could take on bigger roles. The Browns will have walkthroughs Sunday and Monday.
“If we were without Amari, we will adjust,” Stefanski said. “We have all day tomorrow. You have all day (the) day of the game. But I don’t know that I’m ready to say that just yet.”
Moore agreed it was premature to talk about Cooper’s potential absence.
“We don’t know exactly what happened to him. I don’t think we should be speaking on anything before we know anything,” he said. “But it is annoying when you have little mishaps like that, but that’s football.”
The Browns added depth to the receiving corps in the offseason by trading for Moore, signing Goodwin and drafting Tillman in the third round. They could be called upon to fill the void in primetime.
“I feel like we got a group to where everyone should know everything,” Moore said. “I’m pretty confident in every last one of those guys.
“It’s football. You can’t control what happens to who, so you just got to be ready. That’s why everyone studies how we study and know what we know, so we can go out there and perform if something like this happens.”
Safety Juan Thornhill (calf) was listed as questionable to make his Browns debut. He was inactive for the opener and was limited the last two days after returning to practice.
“Looked good,” Stefanski said. “Just did individual yesterday, had some reps today, looked good. But again, something that you really want to use the time, see how he responds, see how he feels tomorrow, see how he feels on Monday before we make a determination.”
Thornhill tested the calf before the opener but wasn’t ready. Rodney McLeod started in his place.
** Rookie defensive tackle Siaki Ika (foot) was also listed as questionable. He didn’t practice this week.
** For the Steelers, receiver Diontae Johnson (hamstring) and running back/kick returner Anthony McFarland Jr. (knee) were ruled out. Everyone else on the roster is expected to play.
Defensive end Myles Garrett’s love of basketball is no secret and it surfaced with a pretend crossover dribble on his way to the line before a pass rush against the Bengals.
“I still got it. Got a little bit left,” he said when asked about his crossover game.
The highlight went viral and received a lot of reaction.
“My family and friends showed me some,” he said. “It was more their reaction. That’s what made it so special.”
Garrett said he’s been doing that in practice for years but never brought it out in a game.
“This year I’m just going to have fun and we’re just going to bust out everything I’m doing in practice,” he said.
New coordinator Jim Schwartz gives players the freedom to express themselves and show their swagger.
“The door’s completely open as long as you’re in the framework,” Garrett said. “He’s seen me win doing stuff like that. So if I was just doing that and I was getting locked up, it would be a little bit different. But he knows he can count on me in those kind of situations.”
Garrett was coy when asked whether he had something planned for Monday night.
“I might break something new out. I might save it for the Bengals. We’ll see,” he said.
David Njoku is so gifted, tight ends coach T.C. McCartney wonders why he isn’t always open.
“He’s worked really hard on route running,” McCartney said. “I know that still some room to grow because he should never get covered. He’s just too big and fast. So anytime he’s covered, he did something wrong. Tell him I said that.”
Njoku has improved in all facets over the last couple of years. He had 13 catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns in two games last year vs. the Steelers, including nine catches for 89 yards and a TD in the 29-17 win in Week 3 in Cleveland.
“I know he’s excited for the opportunity,” McCartney said of Monday night. “He played well last year, both games vs. these guys. So anytime it’s a rivalry game, I think he’s geeked up and ready to play.”
Linebackers coach Jason Tarver challenged Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah as he got ready for his third season.
“There were two big things,” Tarver said. “No. 1 is get strong. He’s gotten stronger. His process of preparing his body is much better. And then the next thing is to be the same every day and really be focusing on his craft every day. His notes have improved, his attention to detail on and off the field has improved and his ability to make corrections between series on the sideline is going up.
“So hopefully, and we think he will stay on this process, because where he is right now is exciting to watch. He’s playing fast and he can even play faster as he continues to improve his process.”