Cleveland Browns cornerback E.J. Gaines returned to practice on Sep. 6, just 18 days removed from what was feared to have been a significant preseason knee injury.
Gaines, 26, escaped with a few weeks on the shelf after being carted off the team’s Berea training facility field on Aug. 19.
The 26-year-old cornerback joined the Browns this offseason and figured to be a large part of the team’s defensive backfield rotation, and he still should be once he returns. But that return likely will not be in Week 1 as the Browns’ matchup with Pittsburgh at FirstEnergy Stadium is just three days.
“Yes, he did some individual today,” head coach Hue Jackson said after Thursday’s practice. “He probably still will not make it this week, but obviously, it was good to have him back out there.”
Without Gaines, expect T.J. Carrie, preseason standout Denzel Rice, and maybe even nickel back and backup safety Briean Boddy-Calhoun to see situational playing time on Sunday. Carrie has struggled playing from the slot this season, a spot the Browns would likely prefer to have Gaines deployed at once he’s healthy and able enough to be effective.
During last year’s 21-18 Week 1 loss to Pittsburgh, the former cornerbacks surrendered 263 passing yards, including a dominant 11-catch, 182-yard performance by superstar receiver Antonio Brown. As it stands now, with or without Gaines, the team’s entire cornerback depth chart has been revamped this offseason. New general manager John Dorsey targeted secondary speed in making those changes, so this week will be a good test of his moves.
Are the Browns now more equipped to limit Brown and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s prolific rapport?