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Need to Know: Browns optimistic about injured DBs heading into another showdown with a top-ranked passing offense

Glance fast enough at the list of the top four passing offenses in the NFL, and you might mistake it for a jumbled version of the Browns’ schedule.

Over the past three weeks, the Browns have faced the NFL’s No. 1 (Tampa Bay), No. 3 (Kansas City) and No. 4 (Pittsburgh) passing offenses. On Sunday, they’ll host No. 2 when the Atlanta Falcons come to FirstEnergy Stadium.

“We have been playing those teams all year long,” coach Gregg Williams said. “All of a sudden, week by week, someone jumps up, someone jumps back.”

Williams, though, is optimistic the Browns will be able to line up against the Falcons with most of his starting secondary in tact and healthy enough to play.

Star rookie Denzel Ward didn’t practice Wednesday after missing most of Sunday’s game with a hip injury. Williams expects Ward to be “fine” for Thursday, indicating optimism for his status against the Falcons.

Safety Damarious Randall, who was held out of Sunday’s game with a groin injury, was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice. In recent weeks, Randall has typically sat out the first practice of the week.

“He is a tough guy,” Williams said. “Getting him back, he had a good day today.”

Early Wednesday, the Browns placed cornerback E.J. Gaines (concussion) on injured reserve. Without Gaines in games against the Buccaneers and Steelers, the Browns, at times, deployed Randall as a cornerback while utilizing versatile defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun at free safety or in the slot. Veteran T.J. Carrie has been a mainstay on the field amid the team’s rash of injuries.

Whoever is on the field will need to have an answer for All-Pro Julio Jones, rookie Calvin Ridley and the rest of a Falcons passing attack that is averaging 320 yards per game.

“They understand (Jones’) playmaking abilities. So do we,” Williams said. “And so, now it is a battle of wills. We have to do things that surround him, surround the ball and make it as minimal as possible. He is a very good football player. He is a very good, athletic, talented receiver.”

-- Williams said Greg Robinson and Desmond Harrison will split repetitions with the first-team offense at practice throughout the week.

Robinson started in place of Harrison, who was out with an illness, in Sunday’s loss against the Chiefs. He was lauded by quarterback Baker Mayfield and others for his performance, and Williams left the door open for him to retain the job.

Robinson, the former No. 2 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, had been working as a backup at both tackle positions before he was summoned for major duty against the Chiefs.

“We will continue to be as versatile as possible and be ready to go when you have to battle through that in a game,” Williams said. “By the end of the week, we will make what is best and it is good – the fact that you have depth. Guys can compete and get ready to roll.” 

Harrison was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice.

“I think it is big for him,” veteran guard Joel Bitonio said. “He needs to take a breath, see where he is at the halfway point and understand what he needs to do to improve in the NFL. After a few weeks, people have a gameplan. If he is not handling the bull rush well, people are going to be like, ‘Hey, bull rush him.’ If he is not being able to handle a twist, twist him. It is the NFL. They have tape on everything. To take a chance to regroup and really improve the game will help him.”

-- Bitonio said he keeps in touch with former Browns center Alex Mack on a regular basis thanks to a group chat that features every member of Bitonio’s first NFL starting lineup. The chat includes former Browns star Joe Thomas, Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and Giants guard John Greco.

Mack, who spent his first seven seasons with the Browns, returns to FirstEnergy Stadium for the first time for a regular season game Sunday.

“I know that he is excited to come back to Cleveland and play in front of the fans,” Bitonio said. “They have been in the playoffs every year. He has enjoyed himself, I know that he has. I know that he misses the guys around here and the people in Cleveland, but he has enjoyed himself down there.”

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