BEREA: Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi has missed the past five games with an injured hamstring, but he believes his chemistry with rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden is still alive and well.
“It’s great,” Massaquoi said Friday after practice. “It hasn’t changed. We’re going to continue to ride the wave that we created in OTAs and in camp and continue to go out there and make plays.”
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Massaquoi will have a chance to fulfill his prophecy Sunday, when the Browns (2-6) host the Baltimore Ravens (5-2). Massaquoi said he’s ready for his first game action since Sept. 23, when he suffered the injury against the visiting Buffalo Bills.
“The sod kind of came from under me, and it overextended and pulled just running a route,” said Massaquoi, who fully participated in practice throughout this week and is listed as probable for Sunday on the injury report. “It was a wet day, and the sod was kind of loose. It just kind of gave out on me.”
But Massaquoi said he now considers himself “close” to 100 percent. He started each of the first three games and had nine catches for 145 yards, establishing himself as Weeden’s most reliable target early this season.
“It’s been very frustrating just because it was a fast start,” Massaquoi said. “I didn’t expect it to take that long, and we’re really starting to catch stride, I think, so I want to be a part of that.”
The timing also seemed to be unfortunate for Massaquoi because he’s in the final year of his contract with the Browns.
“That’s not really the focus,” Massaquoi said. “It hasn’t been a focus this whole year, more so just playing really good ball and just getting out of the funk that we’ve been in as a whole over the past couple of years that I’ve been here.”
In Massaquoi’s absence, rookie Josh Gordon has emerged as Weeden’s go-to target. The most recent rotation at receiver consists of Gordon, Greg Little, Josh Cribbs and rookies Travis Benjamin and Josh Cooper.
Coach Pat Shurmur must decide how to divide playing time with Massaquoi back.
“I think we’ve rotated the receivers throughout the year,” Shurmur said. “When we put the plan together, there are certain things they are in for and certain things they are not. We’re used to doing it.”
The Browns could use Massaquoi differently than they have before by inserting him into the slot in three-receiver sets and letting Gordon and Little line up on the outside. Either way, Massaquoi believes his return will only help.
“I don’t think anybody’s production is going to drop,” said Massaquoi, a second-round draft pick in 2009. “I think it’s just another piece of the puzzle so that we can just continue to grow and produce as a whole.”
As for the chemistry between Massaquoi and Weeden, count Shurmur among those who believe it still exists.
“I don’t worry about the chemistry,” Shurmur said. “I think Brandon and Mo have a pretty good feel for each other. I’ve watched in practice here where they really haven’t lost that feel, even though Mo hasn’t been part of the game day so to speak. I see there’s a pretty good connection there.”
Key piece missing
Starting defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin has been rehabilitating behind the scenes, but he doesn’t know how long he’ll be out with the calf injury that has forced him to miss two of the past three games.
“I’m doing everything,” Rubin said. “I’m running and lifting weights. I’m in the film room, the meeting room.
“It’s kind of a hard thing to come back from. But I’m taking my time, making sure I’m 100 percent when I do take the field.”
Rubin indicated his injury is similar to the one backup running back Montario Hardesty dealt with last season. Hardesty tore a muscle in his right calf last season and did not play in six games.
“He talked to me,” Rubin said. “I think he dealt with it last year around this time. He said it’s something that will last for a long time.”
Rubin is listed as doubtful. He did not practice this week and is not expected to play. He said he doesn’t know whether the team has discussed the possibility of placing him on injured reserve.
“I haven’t heard anything about it,” Rubin said. “I’m just trying to go day-by-day and just take care of my business and let them handle that upstairs or whatever.”
Rubin suffered the injury Oct. 7 against the New York Giants. He was inactive the following week against the Cincinnati Bengals, but he tried to fight through the pain Nov. 21 against the Indianapolis Colts. He played only seven snaps and has sat out since.
“I just went out there and I knew I wasn’t 100 percent,” Rubin said. “I felt like I was hurting the team, so it was better for me to get out instead of staying in there and letting [Colts rookie quarterback Andrew] Luck keep on running touchdowns on us.”
With Rubin out again, the Browns are thrilled with the return of defensive tackle Phil Taylor, the 21st overall pick in last year’s draft. The team officially activated Taylor from the physically unable to perform list Friday. He started all 16 games last season but missed the first eight this year as he recovered from a torn pectoral muscle he suffered in May.
“With Phil back, it’s another D-tackle out there making plays, knocking down balls and sacking the quarterback,” Rubin said. “Phil’s back, and everybody’s happy he’s back.
“That’s my guy. I know he wants to get out there. It’s killing him. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do. I know he’s going to be excited, running around and making plays.”
The Browns signed defensive tackle Ronnie Cameron to their active roster and placed defensive end Brian Sanford (knee) on IR, the team announced Friday.
The 6-foot-2, 305-pound Cameron had been on the Browns’ practice squad all season. They were awarded Cameron off waivers Aug. 14 after the Chicago Bears released him.
“It’s been a long road for me,” said Cameron, an undrafted rookie from Old Dominion University. “When I got cut by the Bears, I didn’t know if I was going to keep playing football. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.”
Sanford spent the first seven weeks of the season on the Browns’ practice squad before being activated. He played 15-of-69 defensive snaps Sunday without recording any statistics. Sanford practiced Wednesday before sitting out Thursday and Friday.
Thin at end
With Sanford and Emmanuel Stephens (neck) recently being placed on IR, the Browns only have three defensive ends on their 53-man roster. Jabaal Sheard and Frostee Rucker are the starters. Juqua Parker is the lone backup.
Sheard, though, isn’t worried about the lack of depth. He said rookie defensive tackle Billy Winn could play end in a pinch.
“We’ve got Billy here,” Sheard said. “He’s pretty athletic and can come out on the end and rush. I really hate to come off the field. I only come off the field because coach makes me. I’d be happy to stay out there. With J.P. and Frostee, we’ll get a rotation going and just keep playing.”
The Browns ruled out Dimitri Patterson, the team’s top nickel cornerback, for Sunday. He will be sidelined for the fourth consecutive game.
Cooper (thigh) and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson (foot/toe) are questionable. Both players practiced all week.
The following players are probable: Weeden (groin/thigh), Rucker (shoulder/toe), Parker (knee), cornerback Johnson Bademosi (hip), free safety Tashaun Gipson (knee), defensive tackle John Hughes (arm), linebacker James-Michael Johnson (knee/groin), right guard Shawn Lauvao (groin), running backs Trent Richardson (chest/rib) and Chris Ogbonnaya (chest/ribs), guard Jarrod Shaw (illness), safeties Ray Ventrone (hand/calf) and T.J. Ward (hand/shoulder) and long snapper Christian Yount (shoulder).
The Ravens ruled out defensive end Pernell McPhee (thigh).
Three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (shoulder/knee) is listed as questionable along with wide receiver LaQuan Williams (ankle). Ngata didn’t practice Thursday or Friday. Williams practiced all week.
The Ravens listed 14 players as probable.
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.