Yesterday, I talked about the possibility of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ regular-season opener foes, the Cleveland Browns, being down two of their five starting offensive linemen. I also wrote that both could make their return in time for that game, and that even if they did not, they should be able to have capable fill-ins.
But there is another starter that they could be without—ignoring the fact that Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams doesn’t believe in starters—that actually will make a difference. According to reports, nose tackle Danny Shelton suffered a knee injury on Wednesday’s practice and is expected to miss anywhere between three and six weeks.
Three weeks out from now would cut it pretty close in terms of getting back in time to play against the Steelers, but if he misses a month and a half or thereabouts, the Cleveland defensive front seven will have to make do without him for about the first quarter or so of the regular season.
According to Mary Kay Cabot and Field Yates, this is the timeframe that they received from unofficial sources, while the team has only said that his injury will be evaluated week to week. That is the same answer that they gave regarding the injuries to their two offensive linemen, who were injured in practice earlier in the week.
Head Coach Hue Jackson did say regarding all of the injured players that he believes that among their injuries is “nothing that I think is way over the top”, adding, “we’ll get Danny back as soon as we can”.
A 2015 first-round draft pick of the Browns, Shelton had an up and down rookie season, but he really began to emerge into his own last season, and figures to be a cornerstone of their defense, particularly against the run.
Cleveland does have some advantages here, as if they have to be without Shelton, then they can simply focus on playing more 4-3 fronts, with Williams committed to having variable schemes this season and not committing to any one personnel grouping.
The Browns do also have some depth along their defensive line after making investments there over the course of the past few draft cycles. His immediate replacement was Jamie Meder, but there are a number of players who will likely fill in along the line.
Some players in that list figure to be Xavier Cooper and perhaps a pair of rookies, Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley. The Browns have logged some of the highest snap counts for their rookie players over the past several years, so it would not be a surprise to see them play quickly.