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Browns Notes: Undrafted rookie Tracy Howard to make 1st start at safety after coordinator Ray Horton suggested position switch

BEREA — Defensive back Tracy Howard joined the Browns as an undrafted rookie May 5, but caught the eye of defensive coordinator Ray Horton long before that.
Horton believed the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder was more suited to play safety than cornerback in the NFL. His faith was rewarded as Howard will make his first professional start Sunday in Cincinnati at free safety.
“Coach Horton was the first person to see that in me, which is a blessing,” Howard said Friday following practice. “He has always talked to me about playing safety — even though I believed I was a natural cornerback — so everything has worked out. I’m very fortunate to be in this situation.”
The Miami (Fla.) product appeared in Cleveland’s first six games as a backup cornerback and safety, in addition to returning six kickoffs for 93 yards.
All along, Horton continued to have him practice at cornerback, safety and nickelback. But his eyes were always on converting Howard to safety.
“I think he can handle everything that the position entails,” Horton said. “Probably the simple answer to what I saw was the fluidity in his hips. Probably that more than anything.
“He has proven to be a valuable part of our team, and I think he may play all three positions for us this week.”
Howard will start in place of Jordan Poyer, who suffered a season-ending lacerated kidney last week at Tennessee. The remainder of the first-team secondary is strong safety Ibraheim Campbell and cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Briean Boddy-Calhoun.
Rookie Boddy-Calhoun will fill in for Joe Haden, who is listed as doubtful with a strained groin.
“I like Tracy a lot, so I’m not concerned,” Haden said. “He’s a really, really smart and athletic player. For him to be able to take in everything we’ve got going on — and be able to play nickel, safety and corner at the same time — is something that not a lot of people can do.”
Haden’s injury also prompted the Browns to promote cornerback Darius Hillary — a Cincinnati native and Sycamore High graduate — from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.
The rookie from Wisconsin spent four weeks on the Bengals’ practice squad before signing with Cleveland on Tuesday. Nose tackle Gabe Wright was released to make room for Hillary.
Rest in peace
Horton was deeply affected by the recent death of former Browns linebacker Quentin Groves, who also played for him in Arizona and Tennessee.
Groves, who spent the 2013 season with Cleveland, passed away in his sleep while visiting his wife’s homeland of Trinidad. He was just 32 years old.
“I went right to my phone to look at my last message from him,” Horton said. “The text was on Aug. 22, and he was involved in some little league camps and he wanted me to come down. I replied, ‘I will do it after the season.’
“I am a firm believer in you don’t have tomorrow promised, you really don’t. I live my life that way and I try to impart that on the players here — meaning their career and life is that way.”
While Groves had some off-the-field issues, including an arrest early in his Browns career, his soft-spoken nature and pleasant personality made him popular with teammates and reporters.
“Quentin Groves is probably one of the most upbeat individuals you have ever met in your life, always a smile,” Horton said. “When you asked him how we was doing, he would always, always answer, ‘I’m blessed.’ Some players say that and I don’t think they mean it, but he did. That is how he lived.”
Injury update
Browns quarterback Josh McCown (left shoulder), wide receiver Corey Coleman (right hand), tight end Seth DeValve (left knee) and cornerback Marcus Burley (hamstring) will not play against the Bengals. Haden (ankle) is doubtful.
Questionable are wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (hamstring), defensive end Xavier Cooper (shoulder) and tight end Randall Telfer (ankle).
Jackson declined to offer specifics about how Haden or Pryor looked during a workout.
Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert (back, ankle) is expected to make his season debut. He is listed as questionable but was a full participant in practice.
Coming soon
Guard Jonathan Cooper is getting up to speed with the Browns after being claimed off waivers from the Patriots on Oct. 10. Jackson expects the No. 7 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft to crack the lineup soon.
Cooper will likely play left guard, where Joel Bitonio was stationed before suffering a Lisfranc midfoot injury against New England on Oct. 9.
“He is learning our system, how we do things, and he has done some good things in practice,” Jackson said. “Eventually, he is going to get a chance to get out there.”
A fine mess
Tennessee running back Antonio Andrews was not fined for his illegal blindside block that hospitalized Poyer and ended his season.
Andrews received widespread criticism for bragging about the hit on social media, including a public rebuke from Poyer’s model girlfriend, Rachel Bush.
The only player from the game to receive punishment from the NFL was Titans safety Daimion Stafford, who was docked $18,231 for a horse-collar tackle of Pryor.
Contact Brian Dulik at [email protected] Follow him @BrianDulik on Twitter.

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.


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