Ward’s status has been in doubt after he entered the league-mandated concussion protocol after sustaining a concussion against the Kansas City Chiefs in the final game of the preseason.
But Ward returned to practice this week and was cleared to play against the Bengals after being a full participant in Friday’s practice, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and other media reports:
Browns’ CB Denzel Ward, who has been in concussion protocol, is now off Cleveland’s injury report and expected to play Sunday vs. the Bengals.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 8, 2023
Having Ward back on the field is a nice boost to a defense that is gearing up to face Cincinnati’s trio of quarterback Joe Burrow and wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, who are a handful for any defense.
The news of Ward’s return is tempered a bit by safety Juan Thornhill being listed as questionable after suffering a calf injury this week in practice, according to cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot:
That doesn’t mean that Thornhill won’t play, of course, but if he is limited then Burrow will certainly take notice. If Thornhill can’t go or has to exit the game, then veteran safety Rodney McLeod will likely see even more action than is already in the plan of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Speaking of calf injuries, Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor confirmed what everyone already knew on Friday when he announced the Burrow will indeed play on Sunday after missing several weeks with a calf strain.
That would appear to give the Bengals an edge until you remember that the Browns have won five consecutive games at home against the Bengals and eight-of-10 overall in the series.
The Browns and the Bengals open the 2023 season on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Cleveland Browns Stadium.