By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns offensive tackles Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz are hoping to keep No. 94 from earning No. 70 Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Buffalo Bills standout defensive end Mario Williams is one sack away from the 70th of his career, and he’ll be hunting Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer in front of a national television audience on NFL Network. Williams, a two-time Pro Bowler, is listed as the Bills’ starting right end, meaning he would line up across from Thomas, a six-time Pro Bowl left tackle. But the 6-foot-6, 292-pound Williams often moves to the left side of the defensive line, so Schwartz, a second-year right tackle, must also brace for the force known as “Super Mario.”
Last season, Williams had 1½ sacks to help the Bills (2-2) defeat the Browns (2-2) in Week 3.
“He was good,” Schwartz said, reflecting on his first encounter with Williams. “You get a guy that big, that fast, that strong he’s going to give you pretty much everything you can handle. You’ve got to be pretty good with what you are doing or otherwise he can expose you. Last year, he was coming off an injury. This year, he’s fully healthy.”
Williams ranks third among all players this season with 5½ sacks. He set a personal best and a franchise record with 4½ sacks in Week 2 against the Carolina Panthers.
“Big, fast, strong — that barely describes him,” Thomas said. “He’s been a great player for a while, and I think he’s making a big impact on Buffalo’s defense right now.”
Undrafted rookie tight end MarQueis Gray lined up twice at quarterback in the Wildcat formation Sunday during the Browns’ 17-6 win over the Bengals. The first time, the Bengals used a timeout in the first quarter because they weren’t prepared for the look. The second time, Gray handed off to running back Bobby Rainey for a 3-yard run in the third quarter.
“I had no idea we were going to put it in,” Gray said. “I just walked in the meeting room one day and they said, ‘We have a package for you.’ We called those plays during the game. Unfortunately, the first time, they called a timeout. I was a little bit upset that that happened because I felt like it would be a positive play. We’ll see if we keep that package going or not.”
Gray played quarterback for the University of Minnesota but switched to tight end after he signed with the San Francisco 49ers. The Browns claimed him off waivers Sept. 1. Gray said he misses playing quarterback “a lot” but is excited about the possibility of continuing the special role offensive coordinator Norv Turner has created for him.
“I think [the Wildcat] can cause difficulties for a defense playing against it,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “You can get some plays out of it. I think Norv has done a great job of finding different skills and different things that guys do and being able to utilize those things to try to help you win. It brings some excitement.”
Cornerback Joe Haden has never returned an interception for a touchdown at any level, and he would love to do it Thursday in prime time. Haden has been planning a touchdown celebration routine since he started playing corner at the University of Florida.
“It’s seven years in the making,” Haden said. “The dance has changed with the new music coming out, so I’ve been waiting on it.”
Starting outside linebacker Jabaal Sheard (sprained left knee), backup defensive end Billy Winn (strained quadriceps) and backup outside linebacker Quentin Groves (high-ankle sprain) did not practice Tuesday. Groves rode a stationary bike on the field.
Chudzinski said Sheard has “improved quite a bit” since he was hurt Sept. 22 against the Minnesota Vikings. Chudzinski has yet to officially rule anyone out for Thursday, but the aforementioned players are not expected to play.
Chudzinski said he has not decided whether Brandon Weeden will serve as Hoyer’s primary backup against the Bills. Weeden fully participated in practice for the second consecutive day after coming back from a sprained right thumb. … On Sunday, kicker Billy Cundiff missed a 37-yard field goal wide left, had a 49-yard attempt go far right after it was deflected by the Bengals and made a 51-yard try. Chudzinski insisted he still trusts Cundiff despite some inconsistency and a strained right quadriceps that has limited him since last week. “I have all of the faith in the world with Billy,” Chudzinski said.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.