CLEVELAND — Cleveland Browns starting linebacker and team captain Anthony Walker Jr. will miss the rest of the season after tearing a quadriceps tendon in Thursday night's win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Walker's loss is a major blow on and off the field for the Browns. He's one of their most popular and energetic leaders and the defence's signal caller.
"He’s a huge, huge, huge part of our football team with what he brings to us,” coach Kevin Stefanski said before he knew the results of an MRI taken Friday.
The 27-year-old Walker will soon undergo surgery, which will be followed by months of recovery. He had played well in the first three games this season, recording 13 tackles, including four loss.
Walker was injured while defending a screen pass. His legs buckled awkwardly under him as he was being blocked by Steelers lineman Chukwuma Okorafor, who then jumped on a defenceless Walker as he laid face down.
Stefanski wouldn't comment on whether Okorafor's extra effort should be punished.
“I will let the league handle those things,” he said.
After Walker was hurt, some of his teammates knelt on the field as his leg was immobilized and he was carted off. He left FirstEnergy Stadium on crutches.
Browns All-Pro defensive end Myles Garrett said seeing Walker get hurt inspired his teammates.
“A guy like that going down really lights a fire underneath you,” Garrett said. “So seeing him go down in that moment it just really showed us how fragile the game is for any one of us and no rep is really guaranteed.
"So you’ve got to go out there and give it your all, knowing that he was going to give his all regardless of the circumstances, if he could’ve got up and continued playing. So we were just trying to play for him and continue to.”
Walker re-signed as a free agent for a second season with Cleveland in March.
Jacob Phillips replaced Walker against the Steelers and will likely move into the starting role and as the play caller. Phillips recorded a sack and broke up a pass in the fourth quarter, helping the Browns (2-1) hang on for a 29-17 win.
“I was proud of Jacob because you wish you could put 12 guys out there for the defence,” Stefanski said. "We listed him as a starter with Anthony early because those guys I really think they are both capable of starting.
"Now with Anthony out likely, Jacob goes in there, and we have a ton of confidence in him. He plays like he plays last night, I think he can really affect the game.”
Stefanski did not have additional information on injuries to linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., and defensive tackle Taven Bryan.
Wills was the only one of the three to return after going out.