Injuries might be the only way an improved Cleveland Browns team falls short of the 2023 playoffs.
And so, it does not bode well that one key defender is already at risk of missing the season opener.
As the team took the field Monday in preparation for the Cincinnati Bengals, their Pro Bowl cornerback was nowhere to be seen.
Denzel Ward remains in the concussion protocol, as reported by Brad Stainbrook and others.
#Browns CB Denzel Ward (concussion) not practicing today. Not ideal.
— Brad Stainbrook (@StainbrookNFL) September 4, 2023
With four concussions in his career, Ward is at risk for extended symptoms.
Two of his concussions occurred within a month’s time in Ward’s rookie season, raising risks of a third.
And even though it happened more than three years later, his third knocked him out of three games last year.
Ward could miss Week 2’s Monday Night Football matchup at Pittsburgh if he needs a similar recovery time.
Jim Schwartz could be without his best man-coverage cornerback to start the 2023 season.
And Cleveland’s odd schedule with three division games in the first four weeks makes for particularly bad timing.
But the Browns have several options to cover for Ward’s absence.
Greg Newsome could slide back outside and a safety or another corner could cover the slot.
🤳: #Browns safety Rodney McLeod says they are “encouraged” by Denzel Ward’s progress but letting him “take the time necessary for doctors to do their job and I’m hoping he’s there when we need him” pic.twitter.com/0bedz7SFqm
— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) September 4, 2023
Cleveland’s defensive line is already chomping at the bit to show off their pass-rushing prowess.
With a hole in the secondary, the urgency of pressuring Joe Burrow increases.
And we could even see some uncharacteristic blitzes out of Schwartz’s unit.