CLEVELAND — Cody Kessler’s back in the saddle. The Browns are hoping he can stay in it a while.
Kessler has recovered enough from an injury to his chest and ribs to start Sunday’s game at Tennessee, a relief to the Browns who have already started three quarterbacks and played five in five games this season.
Kessler, who got hurt in the first quarter of last week’s loss to New England, practiced again on Thursday and following the workout Browns coach Hue Jackson said the third-round draft pick will make his fourth start.
“I think he is ready to go,” Jackson said.
Kessler led the Browns (0-5) on a touchdown drive on the series before he got hurt when Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower shot through the line unblocked and put a hard shot on Cleveland’s quarterback. Kessler said he heard a crunching sound when he hit the turf and feared his injury was much worse.
But after a few days of rehab, he feels much better and is looking forward to another chance.
“It’s exciting to be back out and obviously last week was unfortunate,” he said following practice. “The game got cut a little short for me, so it’s exciting to get back out there.”
Kessler said he’s still feeling discomfort when he throws, but the pain is manageable.
“It’s starting to go away each day,” he said. “It’s getting better and better.”
Jackson has been impressed with the improvement he’s seen from Kessler, who expected to spend his first season learning in a backup role but was thrust into the lineup after injuries to starters Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown.
“I just think he is getting better,” Jackson said. “He is understanding our system, how to play within our system, where to deliver the ball to. He has started to play in a rhythm that runs our offense and a rhythm that works for him. That is what we have to do is, whoever is playing quarterback, make sure we get them in rhythm where they can play and function and play good. He has done a good job, obviously, but still so early in the season and we have a long way to go.”
McCown was cleared to practice this week after breaking his left collarbone in Week 2. The 37-year-old wants desperately to play, but he might need more time to heal before he’s completely ready.
Jackson said he did not know if McCown will back up Kessler. If McCown isn’t available, rookie Kevin Hogan will be the No. 2 quarterback.
Wide receiver Terrelle Pryor also took snaps at quarterback this week. He took 14 snaps in Cleveland’s Sept. 25 loss to Miami and filled in briefly last week after Kessler went down.
The Browns also had veteran Charlie Whitehurst on their roster this week, but he sustained a left knee injury against the Patriots and was released after reaching an injury settlement with the team.
Cleveland lost starting left guard Joel Bitonio for an indefinite period with a sprained foot, and Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas missed time this week with a knee issue. Jackson, though, said “my left tackle is fine” and Thomas will play Sunday — he hasn’t missed a snap in nine-plus NFL seasons.
Because of injuries and a team suspension after Alvin Bailey’s arrest, the Browns have had to rotate centers and guards in front of their quarterbacks, hardly an ideal scenario to give them protection. Kessler has taken his share of shots, but knows he has to trust the guys in front of him.
“It’s unfortunate and we want everyone to stay healthy, but you kind of just go with it and roll with it and whoever’s in there, you know they’re going to come in and compete,” he said. “It’s kind of how this game works. A guy gets hurt, it’s the next-man-up-mentality and obviously we have some great guys on our offensive line and guys that keep getting rotated in.”