It would not be a Cleveland Browns game without a starting player or two on the defense missing in action.
Such will be the case again on Sunday as the Browns have ruled out defensive end Olivier Vernon and defensive back Eric Murray with injuries.
The Murray injury continues a season-long trend that has seen the Browns without a player (or players) in the defensive secondary on an almost weekly basis.
The absence of Vernon, who injured his knee late in last Sunday’s loss to the Denver Broncos, is the headline, however, because it thrusts second-year defensive end Chad Thomas into the spotlight.
Thomas has been mostly invisible since being selected in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, which was somewhat acceptable when he was a healthy scratch through much of a rookie season that saw him appear in just four games.
That has been more problematic this season, however, as Thomas has been a regular member of the defensive line’s second unit, but has still done little when he has been on the field. In 126 defensive snaps, Thomas has posted eight tackles, recovered a fumble and recorded a sack.
So why should Browns fans feel comfortable with Thomas taking over for Vernon on Sunday?
Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, the architect of a Cleveland defense that is currently 30th against the run (141.2 yards per game) and is giving up 4.9 yards per carry, is hanging his hat on Thomas’ ability in the run game, according to clevelandbrowns.com:
“It starts really in the run game. I think he does a tremendous job playing the 6-technique. That is going to be a major emphasis for us this week in this run game – really being physical with the tight ends trying to penetrate and knock the guy out back off the ball – and I think he has been decent in the pass rush. He is quick off the ball, and he has great acceleration. The thing we have to do this week is we have to make sure we get to the depth of the QB and counter.”
The game against the Bills will be a good test of Wilks’ belief in Thomas as Buffalo comes into the game averaging 129.4 rushing yards and 4.6 yards per carry this season.
Thomas has been mostly invisible during his brief Browns career, but he will in the spotlight come Sunday, so invisible is no longer an option.