The Cleveland Browns couldn’t have a bigger Week 1 than the one they have in 2023. Yes, the Baltimore Ravens are more hated and the Pittsburgh Steelers are the long-term rival but the Cincinnati Bengals are the class of the AFC North right now and are the in-state rivals.
The Bengals have used an explosive offense with Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd to rack up points while an elite defensive line and (now-departed) great safety play led the defense.
For the Browns, stopping Burrow-led offense could be more difficult with CB Denzel Ward’s injury.
Ward entered concussion protocol in Cleveland’s final preseason game and was not practicing on Monday in preparation for Cincinnati. While HC Kevin Stefanski is not allowed to share much about concussion protocol, safety Rodney McLeod believes Ward will play in Week 1:
Browns S Rodney McLeod on CB Denzel Ward:— Hayden Grove (@H_Grove) September 4, 2023
"I think we're encouraged that he will be available for us, so we're allowing Denzel to take the time necessary, doctors to do their job and hoping that he's there when we need him.
"He's somebody who we need come Sunday."#Browns
The problem with concussions is that the recovery is not something that is easy to judge from the outside in. If a player has an ankle or knee issue, we can see them running or not during their recovery.
While McLeod might be “encouraged,” only the doctors in charge of his care can provide actual information on his return.
Stefanski also noted that new kicker Dustin Hopkins was not with the team on Monday but should return Tuesday. No information was provided regarding the reason for his absence:
Stefanski: No update on Denzel. Said kicker Dustin Hopkins was “not here today. He will be here tomorrow.”— Zac Jackson (@AkronJackson) September 4, 2023
We can speculate as to the reason, given the kicker’s move from the West Coast, but it could be a myriad of things.
We will keep you up to date with intel on both Ward and Hopkins as it becomes available this week.