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Need to Know: Denzel Ward optimistic he’ll be healthy enough to take on Julio Jones, Falcons’ high-powered offense

Ailed by a hip flexor, Denzel Ward was left helpless for most of last week’s game against Kansas City’s high-powered passing attack.

The rookie cornerback expects he’ll be able to help Sunday when the Browns are tasked with stopping yet another one of the league’s best offenses. Ward, who played in just the first series against the Chiefs, was a limited participant at Thursday’s practice after sitting out Wednesday’s.

“I am getting better,” Ward said. “I had monitored reps today. It felt good to be back out there. I am getting better, though. I should be good.”

Ward, who leads the team with three interceptions, won’t get eased back into the swing of things if he’s good to go against the Falcons. He’ll likely be thrown into the fire against All-Pro Julio Jones, who is second in the NFL in receiving yards and an overall physical specimen that will present a new challenge for Cleveland’s star rookie.

In a season that’s already pitted Ward against Antonio Brown (twice), Michael Thomas, Keenan Allen and DeSean Jackson, Jones is just the latest big-name receiver who will be staring down Ward from across the line of scrimmage.

“They are a very talented group, starting with No. 11 Julio Jones, obviously, Calvin Ridley and (Mohamed) Sanu,” Ward said. “They have a lot of talented players that can make plays. We just have to try to take those guys out of the game to the best of our ability.”

-- Williams said defensive back Damarious Randall continues to have a good week and could be healthy enough to play cornerback if Cleveland needs him to Sunday against the Falcons.

Randall, a cornerback for his first three seasons in Green Bay, has primarily played safety since coming to Cleveland this offseason, but the Browns deployed him as a cornerback Week 7 against the Buccaneers. Randall matched up with Mike Evans, a big target much like Jones, for most of the game. Like Week 7, the Browns will be without starting cornerback E.J. Gaines, who was placed on injured reserve Wednesday.

Randall did not play against the Chiefs but has been healthy enough to participate in practice this week.

“A lot of it goes into the matchup type of stuff, the depth on the roster or the depth that day and then his health,” Browns coach Gregg Williams said. “All of those factors go in that.” 

-- Williams said preparations began at 6:30 a.m. to get Cleveland’s three newest members in its secondary up to speed and potentially ready to contribute Sunday against the Falcons.

The Browns signed cornerback Juston Burris off the Jets’ practice squad early Wednesday and later added cornerback Phillip Gaines and safety Jermaine Whitehead via waiver claims. Cleveland has been battered by injuries on defense, and the secondary has been the hardest hit. On top of Ward’s uncertain status, the Browns have two starting cornerbacks, Terrance Mitchell and E.J. Gaines, on injured reserve.

“They will be here real late at night,” Williams said. “It will be their ability to comprehend and their ability to understand. The game is the same. A lot of the times the verbiage is different. We just call it different. A couple of those guys have come from guys that I have coached their coaches, and a couple of those guys’ coaches have been on my staff before. There is a little bit of a bond there.”

-- Browns offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens said the team’s offensive line did a “tremendous job” against the Chiefs, and left tackle Greg Robinson played a big part in it

Robinson, who has bounced around the league since he was taken No. 2 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft, picked up his first start of the season in place of rookie Desmond Harrison, who had an illness. They’re both competing in practice to start this week.

“If he plays the way he did last week, he will make us better,” Kitchens said.

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