Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, who only played seven snaps over the last five weeks because of a calf injury, returned to practice Monday afternoon.
Barring a setback, Rubin will join fellow defensive tackle Phil Taylor and defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Frostee Rucker in Cleveland’s starting lineup against the Dallas Cowboys.
“It’s going to be an awesome thing when we’re all out there healthy,” Rucker said. “I got a feel for how Phil plays last week and I played with Rube earlier in the year, so I know how good he is, as well.
“It’s not that there was anything Billy (Winn) and John (Hughes) didn’t do when they were in, but it’s always great to have a veteran presence on the field. What Phil and Rube did last year was tremendous.”
Rookies Winn and Hughes should still see plenty of snaps Sunday in Dallas as part of defensive coordinator Dick Jauron’s line rotation, but will be playing the complementary roles envisioned for them on draft day.
The 330-pound Rubin and 335-pound Taylor, meanwhile, hope to pick up where they left off in 2011 when they formed one of the NFL’s more intimidating duos.
“With me and Rube there, it makes a big difference,” said Taylor, who missed the Browns’ first eight games with a torn left pectoral muscle. “They’re gonna double-team us a lot, so it’s gonna leave the ends with a lot of one-on-ones, and that’s gonna help us a lot as well.”
Rubin agreed with his teammate, pointing out that their skill sets are similar, which makes them almost impossible to shut down.
“If I’m not making plays, then Phil is because we’re both charging the ball,” the fifth-year pro said. “That’s why I would love to play, but it’s a decision for Joe (Sheehan, trainer) and the coaches.
“I want to make sure I’m making plays, and can contribute and help, but for now, I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.”
Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur said Rubin’s imminent return also will allow Winn to see some time at defensive end.
The Browns only dressed three players at that position in their last game against Baltimore — Rucker, Sheard and Juqua Parker — following the season-ending neck injury suffered by Emmanuel Stephens.
“We’re starting to see more of the guys back that we thought we’d be seeing early in the year, which is good,” Shurmur said. “The roster looks more like I thought it would when the season started.”
Shurmur and offensive coordinator Brad Childress will continue to call plays as a tandem in the second half of the season.
The duo and quarterback Brandon Weeden had major communication problems in the Browns’ 25-15 loss to the Ravens on Nov. 4, but Shurmur said they were addressed during the bye week.
“We needed to generally do a better job (streamlining the process) and, really, they only popped up this last game,” the coach said. “There are things that happen in games that you don’t want to happen again. You try to eliminate mistakes and put the players in the best position to win games.”
Shurmur also defended their play calling as a whole despite Cleveland ranking in the bottom tier of the 32-team NFL in most major offensive categories. The Browns are 26th in points per game, 28th in yards per play, and 29th in total yardage.
“All week, we decide what plays we’re going to run, then we have them put down on the cards,” he said. “That’s what those cards are for. We just don’t make it up.
“Then we collaborate and make a decision. Most of the time, we have our thoughts ready to go, based on the situation. That’s all.”
Taylor held a Thanksgiving-themed food drive for the needy near his hometown of Clinton, Md. over the weekend. He distributed free turkeys and canned goods to a number of families.
• Cornerback Joe Haden — a proud University of Florida alum — was in Gainesville for the Gators’ 27-20 win over Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday. Surprisingly, he said he didn’t watch any NFL games on Sunday afternoon.
• Wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (hamstring) participated in practice and said he did not experience a setback in the Ravens game when he limped off the field in the fourth quarter. …
• Cornerback Dimitri Patterson (left high ankle sprain) was the only member of the 53-man roster who did not practice. He has been sidelined since Oct. 7 at the New York Giants, but Rucker said he was hopeful that “Dimitri will be back soon.”
Quotes of the day
“There is nothing that could distract us. Seriously. We’ve been through it all. We just want to go hard and win now. Everything else doesn’t matter.” — Cornerback Joe Haden.
• “Either this year or next year will be our year.” — Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin.
• “We can still make a pretty good run at everything we want to accomplish this season in these final seven games.” — Wide receiver Greg Little.