For the first time in a month, the Browns are poised to have strength in numbers at cornerback.
Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams, both of whom have been sidelined with hamstring injuries since Week 3, are poised to return to the field Sunday against the Patriots. Both began the season as Cleveland's starters and played the vast majority of snaps in the team's first two games, but neither has been guaranteed the same role upon their return. That's because veterans Terrance Mitchell and T.J. Carrie have played the positions so well in their absence.
"T.J. and Terrance have done a great job. It is great to have Denzel and Greedy back. Those guys are practicing well," Browns defensive coordinator Steve Wilks said. "We are going to see exactly what they can do this week and how much work load they can take, but all four of those guys to me are deserving."
Ward and Williams weren't tested all that much by opposing receivers during the first two weeks, but both appeared to be playing well. Ward is coming off a Pro Bowl rookie season while Williams, the team's second-round selection in this year's draft, beat out Mitchell and Carrie during a preseason competition for the starting job.
Wilks said he's excited to see them return to the field but stressed he wasn't yet sure how much they'd play.
"No. 1, just their skillset," Wilks said. "You look at both of those guys coming out of college, they come from a program that played a lot of man. This is a game that we may have to do that just to be able to tighten things up. The physicality in the run game, these guys do a great job of blocking support so our corners have to come up and replace on the edges. To have both of those guys back is exciting."
Ward and Williams have been full participants at practice throughout the week and have "looked good" doing so, Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said.
"They have looked like they come back out ready to play so we will find out," Kitchens said. "We need them to play. We need them to play well. We need everybody to play well."
Check out photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Patriots Sunday by team photographer Matt Starkey
-- Kitchens said rookie offensive lineman Drew Forbes picked up where he left off in his first practice since the preseason.
Forbes, Cleveland's sixth-round pick, was designated for return from the injured reserve list Thursday, allowing him to participate in his first practice since suffering a knee injury in the Browns' preseason finale against Detroit. A left tackle at Southeast Missouri State, Forbes is primarily working as a guard but also has the ability to play tackle or center," Kitchens said.
"I thought Drew move around good," Kitchens said, "He felt good, he moved around good. His knowledge has not suffered. Actually doing it and having the knowledge is two different things. But he seems like he spent his time on the IR to benefit him from the standpoint of knowing what to do and now he is able to go out and play fast and do it."
-- There were certainly some special teams positives to take away from the Browns' Week 6 loss to the Seahawks, but Mike Priefer couldn't look past the blocked punt his group surrendered.
That blocked punt, which occurred in the second quarter and led to a Seahawks field goal, was a result of poor protection, Cleveland's special teams coordinator said. Jamie Gillan, who recently went from three steps to two steps on his punts, got the kick off in 1.95 seconds -- the type of speed Priefer likes.
One negative play like that was enough to overshadow Dontrell Hilliard's long kickoff return to start the game and a punt block rush that helped set up the Browns with a very short field early in the fourth quarter.
"Did we win the field possession battle overall? Yes, but you should never give up a blocked punt," Priefer said. "We should never give up a blocked punt, and that can't happen again. That has been our big emphasis the last two weeks. We have worked a lot on it the two practices we had a week ago and of course, yesterday, and we are working on it again tomorrow in punt."