The Cincinnati Bengals placed yet another player on injured reserve Friday with defensive tackle Adolphus Washington now on the list, but the Cleveland Browns will be coming into Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday the healthiest they’ve been since training camp.
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Browns interim coach Gregg Williams has plenty of reasons to be confident going into the first “Battle of Ohio” matchup this season. He spoke to Cincinnati-area media in a conference call Wednesday, discussing the health of his team, intensity of the players in practice coming off the bye week and improvements he’s seen since he took over for fired Hue Jackson last month, among other topics.
Here are five things he said about the matchup Sunday:
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1. Going behind enemy lines
With Jackson now on staff with the Bengals as a special assistant to the head coach, Williams said he isn’t concerned about that creating an advantage for Cincinnati. He’s just glad Jackson has an opportunity to coach somewhere.
“I think he’s doing what you’re supposed to be doing — you’re supposed to be coaching,” Williams said. “… In all honesty, there are no secrets anymore in the league with how all the film is out there to show everybody exactly what you’re doing and now in the game where they have all the audio and sound that’s on the TVs since we’re trying to make sure all the fans get a chance to hear and experience more — all that is used every single week in the preparation process. I’m just happy Hue is coaching, and I respect him and I treasure our friendship.”
There also is some familiarity for Williams with Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, as the two of them coached together for four years at Washington.
2. Both head coaches calling plays
When Williams was named Jackson’s replacement, he also retained duties as defensive coordinator, which means on Sunday both head coaches will be splitting time between managing their teams and calling plays on defense.
Marvin Lewis assumed the defensive coordinator role for the Bengals after a Week 10 loss to the Saints when he fired Teryl Austin.
“That does kind of bring a smile to my face,” Williams said. “It’s kind of unique. It kind of goes back to another thing I’ve learned in this league, which is don’t ever think something else isn’t going to crop up for the first time you’re ever going to see it.”
Williams said he likes still calling the defense because that’s what he got into coaching for in the first place.
3. Mayfield making progress
Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield “has come a long way” in a short period of time, Williams said. He’s coming off his best performance to date after completing 17 of 20 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-16 win over Atlanta two weeks ago before the bye.
Mayfield will be the second straight rookie quarterback the Bengals will face.
“He belongs in our league and he is only going to continue to get better,” Williams said. “He has that about him that he knows he does belong in the league. He is very accurate, he is very smart, he is born to be a leader and the kind of leader a lot of the top guys are in our league. You either have that or you don’t. It’s not a fake process with him. He has it.”
4. Chubb adjusting well, too.
Williams said rookie running back Nick Chubb took a little time adjusting to how big, fast and powerful everyone is in the NFL but he’s finding a rhythm.
Chubb also had his best game against the Falcons, rushing for 176 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s got a suddenness about him,” Williams said. “I think he has really good vision that you’re either born with instinctively at that position. I think he has that. I think he runs with good pad level, and he protects the football, and at this level those are primary parts of what you have to do to be a really good running back. And, he understands he is good in protection. He’s also better than I thought he was coming out, because I didn’t get a chance to see a whole lot of him, but I’ve been impressed with how well he has improved in the pass game since he’s been here.”
Although the Browns are very young, Williams said he has plenty of talent he’s excited to be working with, including many guys he had wanted to draft when he was with the Rams. Among others he mentioned were defensive lineman Myles Garrett, middle linebacker Joe Schobert and cornerback Terrance Mitchell.
5. Bye week was helpful
The Browns had an extra week to prepare for the Bengals and are looking in good shape for Sunday. Intensity was high at practice Monday when the team regrouped, and only three players were listed on the injury report.
“We’re the healthiest we’ve been since really training camp, so it’s good to see all those other guys out there practicing and having a little bit of time off going into the bye week, and I think the bye week was good to get everybody healthy and get them refreshed a little bit and get ready to make the haul here at the end of the season,” Williams said.