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K'Waun Williams' return big for banged-up Browns secondary

Browns coach Mike Pettine thought second-year nickel back K'Waun Williams played one of the best games of his young career when Cleveland downed Tennessee in its home opener.

That's one of the reasons why losing Williams against Oakland and San Diego because of a concussion was so tough on Cleveland's secondary. Williams' backup at nickel is Pro Bowl cornerback Tramon Williams, who slides over from his spot from the outside to fill the slot. Second-year cornerback Pierre Desir primarily has filled the role vacated by Tramon Williams while K'Waun Williams is out.

That's expected to change Sunday, as Williams was cleared from the NFL's concussion protocol earlier this week and is practicing in full leading up to Sunday's game in Baltimore.

"I think K'Waun was very much under the radar as far as a guy that was playing at a high level when he was out there a year ago, played real good football for us," Pettine said. "It's good to have him out there to not have to jumble the rest of the lineup."

Williams is coming back from a concussion that didn't show its symptoms until multiple days after his last contact. Williams said he'll remain vigilant in his awareness of head injuries and will continue to "play the game how I play it."

Williams is not only tough in coverage against opposing receivers, but also a menace as a blitzer. His instincts as a rusher are some of his top strengths, and he displayed them frequently against the Titans.

The Browns had seven sacks against Tennessee. They've had two over the past two games.

"I guess some skillsets I built throughout my life and helped me blitzing," Williams said. "Being small is not so bad in those situations. In terms of blitzing, you just maneuver your way through."

Even with Williams set to return, the Browns secondary could remain a patchwork unit Sunday against the Ravens, as the status of two Pro Bowl players remains up in the air.

Safety Tashaun Gipson did not practice for a second consecutive day Thursday as he continues to recover from an ankle injury that kept him out of most of last week's second half. Jordan Poyer would be the likely fill-in, but that move causes a chain reaction in the team's defensive packages that include Poyer as a sixth defensive back.

Cornerback Joe Haden, who missed last week's game, has been limited at the past two practices. If he can't play, Desir would be poised to continue his extended work.

Pettine called Desir "outstanding" when he's able to get his hands on receivers because of his strength and "great punch." He's fared well against the likes of Michael Crabtree and Keenan Allen.

"I still have a lot of things to work on," Desir said. "It's great to get the experience and get the reps. It's a definite confidence booster. I just have to watch the film and keep getting better."

Williams has done just that since he arrived in Cleveland last year as a tryout player. Injuries have held him back at times, but his growth within the Browns defense was apparent during the spring, when he was one of the team's standout players.

At 5-foot-9 and 183 pounds, he's not your typical NFL player. His impact on a secondary looking to tap into what worked so well last season promises not to be typical, either.

"He always has a smile on his face," Pettine said. "You spend enough time around him he loves to play, loves being around his teammates. He's very well-respected for what he's overcome to get into the NFL."

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