BEREA, Ohio (AP) — The Cleveland Browns could be without six defensive starters, including their entire secondary, when they host the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams.
Safety Damarious Randall (concussion) and linebacker Christian Kirksey (chest) were formally declared out by coach Freddie Kitchens following practice Friday at the Browns’ suburban training facility.
Safety Morgan Burnett (quadriceps), linebacker Adarius Taylor (ankle) and cornerbacks Denzel Ward (hamstring) and Greedy Williams (hamstring) are listed as questionable for the first nationally televised Sunday night game in Cleveland since 2008.
“Kind of a bummer, isn’t it?” Kitchens said. “It does make things more difficult, but we preach preparation. That goes for backup guys, just as it does for the starters, because once you’re in the game, you could become a starter in one play. Nothing has really changed from that aspect.”
Randall, Burnett and Taylor sat out all three practices this week, while defensive captain Kirksey is out indefinitely and may require surgery for his unspecified injury that occurred Monday during the Browns’ 23-3 win at the New York Jets.
Ward and Williams did not participate in team drills Thursday and Friday. There is a strong possibility the Rams’ explosive offense — led by quarterback Jared Goff, running back Todd Gurley and wide receiver Robert Woods — could face four fill-in defensive backs.
“We’re going to have to pick up the rush to help the guys in the back end,” defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi acknowledged. “But I feel like it all works together, so we’ll be all right.
“To be honest, you look forward to situations like this because a lot of these guys come in and play really well. I have confidence because I watch them prepare every day.”
Cornerbacks T.J. Carrie and Terrance Mitchell and safeties Eric Murray and Jermaine Whitehead are set to move into the starting lineup, along with rookie linebacker Mack Wilson. Cleveland has a 1-1 record and its defense is ranked seventh in the NFL.
The secondary shuffling isn’t as problematic as it appears as Carrie and Mitchell are sixth-year pros who played significant roles for the Browns in 2018. Whitehead started the first two games as a fifth defensive back and Murray logged 42 defensive plays against the Jets.
“It don’t matter who is in, you’ve got to have the right mentality and we vets have to rally the young guys,” tight end Demetrius Harris said. “You don’t want to see anybody go down, but football is a business and it’s the next man up.
“We prepare every week — everyone in this room does — that we’re going to win, so I can’t wait until Sunday night.”
Kitchens echoed Harris’ optimism, though he joked that he wouldn’t tell reporters if he felt differently. Los Angeles is 2-0 and has scored the seventh-most points in the league, averaging 28.5 per game.
The first-year coach noted that the 8:20 p.m. kickoff could benefit his questionable players, giving them a little more time to recover, and expects the sellout crowd at FirstEnergy Stadium to be electric.
“I want our fans to come with passion because I promise you the guys that dress are going to play to the best of their ability,” Kitchens said. “I want to play smart, I want to play fast and I want to play physical, whoever is on the team.
“I just need 11 on each side of the ball to show up and play. I will roll with whoever is there.”
NOTES: DE Chris Smith has been excused from all team activities to grieve the death of girlfriend Petara Cordero in an auto accident on Sept. 11. Smith played against the Jets to honor Cordero, who gave birth to their daughter, Haven Harris Smith, last month. “I am hesitant to say whether he is going to suit up or not because I would like to talk with Chris and see, but yes, Chris is doing well,” Kitchens said. “It is still a tough time period for the family.” … TE David Njoku (right wrist fracture) was placed on injured reserve. He can’t be activated until Week 11. Kitchens remained unsure if Njoku will undergo surgery after being hurt against the Jets. …S Justin Burris was claimed off waivers from Oakland, and CB Robert Jackson was promoted from the practice squad. … Kitchens remained unsure if TE David Njoku (right wrist fracture) will undergo surgery after being hurt against the Jets. … Fifth-round pick Wilson spent the day away from the team for personal reasons, but was expected back Saturday. … Starting T Chris Hubbard (foot) sat out the week and is questionable. T Justin McCray would replace him.
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