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Browns secondary rising to occasion amid flurry of injuries

Jeff Howard allowed the "oh geez" moments to last for just a few moments.

Then, among a deep group of Browns defensive backs who have been put to the test amid a flurry of injuries, it was the age-old, football mentality repeated one more time: Next man up.

For months, defensive backs coach Jeff Howard had been preparing his group for the inevitable adversity that would come at some point in the season. For Cleveland's defensive backs, it came Monday, when S Grant Delpit was lost for the season and DBs Greedy Williams, M.J. Stewart Jr., Kevin Johnson and Terrance Mitchell were all sidelined with their own respective injuries.

"I feel like football really doesn't produce character; it really tests character. That situation is one example of that," Howard said. "Especially with our guys, we are going to go into the season, it is going to be tough and we are going to get hit in the mouth, and it is how are you going to handle it.

"We came back and talked among the group and really talked them through the challenge of 'What are you going to do if this happens to us?'If your opportunity is called, are you going to be ready for it?' In this day and age as competitive as this league is, you are going to get one shot, and you have to be ready for your shot."

The group responded Tuesday with one of its best overall performances of training camp. It's been a common occurrence for the Browns secondary, which has caused problems for the offense and gotten its hands on a number of interceptions through the first 11 practices — no matter who's healthy enough to be on the field.

"I think we have some really good veteran corners and some young guys that I really think they are doing a nice job," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said. "The guys are taking to the scheme. I think between (defensive coordinator) Joe (Woods) and Jeff and (assistant defensive backs coach) Brandon Lynch, I think these guys are really grinding them on technique and fundamentals. I think it is a pretty good room."

Though Delpit won't be back until 2021, that room has healed up a bit since Monday's barrage of injuries.

Mitchell has since returned from a knee injury that sidelined him for multiple days. One of the most experienced defensive backs on the team, Mitchell has had a strong camp and been involved in a number of pass breakups and interceptions.

Howard said Mitchell's performance is a byproduct of a productive offseason.

"In the offseason the way it was, it was a little bit unique, but we would end up quizzing them pretty much daily, and he was one of the leaders in the group," Howard said. "He is an intelligent player. He has taken the things that he has learned during the offseason and really kind of applied it. He has made the most of his reps. He has had some plays on the ball that were impressive."

Williams, who started 12 games as a rookie in 2019, has not practiced since injuring his shoulder but Stefanski described him as "truly day to day." Johnson has not practiced since suffering a lacerated liver less than a week into camp, but the veteran has been back with the team and working his way back from the unfortunate, freak injury. Stewart, who had been similarly impressive while working in the slot, has not practiced since sustaining a hamstring injury Monday.

Still, the production and coverage hasn't dropped off. Pro Bowler Denzel Ward has been healthy and active throughout his third training camp with the Browns, and players such as Donovan Olumba and Robert Jackson have risen to the occasion at cornerback. Sheldrick Redwine has done the same at safety in the wake of Delpit's season-ending Achilles injury.

Howard said the defensive backs have embraced the same mentality Delpit has displayed in the days following his injury.

"I think it has been cool to see how he has been putting it into his focus, 'OK, it happened. I am over it, and now I am moving forward,'" Howard said. "We are trying to do the same thing as a team and as a defensive backfield. Just taking opportunities we get, be solution-oriented and kind of move forward."

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