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Notes: TE David Njoku excited for return Sunday against Bengals

BEREA — The wait was excruciating for tight end David Njoku.

It’s about to come to an end.

The Browns are expected to activate him from injured reserve Saturday so he’s eligible to play Sunday against the Bengals at FirstEnergy Stadium.

“It’s good to be back, man,” he said Friday.

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Njoku, the No. 29 pick in 2017, suffered a broken right wrist in an awkward fall against the Jets on Sept. 16. He was forced to miss eight games when placed on IR and had surgery to speed up the recovery.

He returned to practice Nov. 20 and declared himself ready to play, but the team didn’t activate him in time to face the Dolphins or the Steelers.

He’ll join a tight end group with Demetrius Harris, Stephen Carlson, Ricky Seals-Jones and Pharaoh Brown.

“I feel great. I’m ready to go,” Njoku said. “It has been a long time — Week 2 to be exact. Yeah, I’m excited.”

Coach Freddie Kitchens liked the play of his tight ends and wanted to make sure Njoku was ready to step in and contribute as a receiver and blocker before activating him. Njoku felt he showed the coaches “consistency” this week in practice.

“Obviously you can catch a ball once, but doing it multiple times and knowing you’re capable of doing it is the best thing,” he said. “I am ready now.”

Njoku had four catches for 37 yards in the opener, including a 3-yard touchdown. The Browns have struggled in the red zone for much of the year — they are tied for 20th in the league, scoring touchdowns on 53.7 percent of trips inside the 20-yard line (22-of-35) — and went 1-for-3 Sunday in a 20-13 loss to the Steelers. Njoku thinks he can help.

“Sure. I can do anything they ask me to do,” he said.

IN LIKE A LAMM?

Right tackle Chris Hubbard (knee) said he “shut it down” after individual drills in practice Friday and will be a gametime decision. He was listed as questionable on the official injury report.

“We’re going to see how it feels and then go from there,” he said.

Hubbard has started 11 of 12 games, missing Week 3 with a foot injury. He said he hit his knee against Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt late in the game but didn’t really feel it until Monday.

“I want to do everything that I can to be there for them and help this team win in any kind of way,” Hubbard said. “So that’s what’s affecting me right now.”

He said it’s not just a bruise, something’s wrong inside the knee.

Kendall Lamm would replace Hubbard. Lamm injured his knee in the opener — his first game with the team — and was inactive until Sunday in Pittsburgh. He started 13 games last year for the Texans, all at right tackle.

“We play football to play, not to sit out,” he said. “We’re all grown men. So if I’m called upon to play, I’ll roll with it.”

Whoever plays right tackle will face defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who had three sacks Sunday against the Jets.

IT’S A WRAP

Baker Mayfield practiced with nothing on his throwing hand and is expected to play Sunday without a wrap or glove. He finished the Steelers game with a glove on his right hand, and had the bottom of his hand and thumb wrapped Wednesday and Thursday.

“He probably did not need the wrap on the first part of the week,” Kitchens said. “It was just preventive more than anything.”

Mayfield suffered a bruised hand when it hit the face mask of linebacker Bud Dupree on a follow-through. Kitchens doesn’t think it will affect him against the Bengals.

“No, I think Baker is fine,” he said.

INJURY REPORT

Defensive end Olivier Vernon didn’t practice Friday after being limited Wednesday and Thursday and was listed as questionable. He played 10 snaps against the Steelers after missing three games with a knee injury and didn’t have his usual burst.

“It’s basically like a playoff game, so at the end of the day, I’m just going to be there for my team,” he said.

He acknowledged he’s not 100 percent and is “still healing.”

“But ain’t nobody 100 percent in this game,” he said. “So it’s just important to me to be out there with my teammates.”

** Center JC Tretter (knee) was listed as questionable but expects to play.

** Harris (shoulder) was listed as questionable.

** Cornerback/special teamer Robert Jackson (ankle) was ruled out.

** Defensive back Eric Murray (knee) was listed as doubtful. He returned to practice this week in a limited capacity after missing five games following knee surgery Nov. 1.

** The Bengals ruled out receiver A.J. Green (ankle), defensive end Sam Hubbard (knee), tight end Drew Sample (ankle) and safety/kick returner Brandon Wilson (hand).

ON SECOND THOUGHT

Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was noncommittal Thursday about his future with the Browns, then didn’t like how his comments were conveyed by the media.

“I NEVER said I was not happy in Cleveland, just like everyone else I’m hopeful for better results. Period. Next story plzz” he tweeted Friday morning.

Beckham didn’t say he wasn’t happy in Cleveland. But he was given multiple chances to stop speculation he could want out in the offseason and didn’t do so.

“I couldn’t tell you what’s going to happen,” Beckham said Thursday. “My locker is right beside one of the men (Jarvis Landry) that means the most to me in the world. I think about just being able to come to work and see him every single day and how special this could be.

“I couldn’t sit here and tell you whether I’m going to be here, want to be here, don’t want to be here — this is exactly where I’m at now and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else. God has a plan. In the offseason, everything will figure itself out.”

NEAR AND DEAR

As part of the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats campaign, more than 20 Browns players will wear custom cleats Sunday to raise awareness for initiatives that carry special meaning for them.

The list includes Mayfield (Special Olympics), Beckham (Berea Animal Rescue Friends), left guard Joel Bitonio (American Heart Association), running back D’Ernest Johnson (ocean conservancy), Lamm (breast cancer), safety Sheldrick Redwine (multiple sclerosis), receiver Damion Ratley (Freedom for Animals) and kicker Austin Seibert (Back the Blue/Police Force).

EXTRA POINTS

Free safety Damarious Randall practiced every day, and the coaches were pleased with how he responded to the benching vs. the Steelers.

“Damarious, he was Damarious this week,” Kitchens said. “He did a good job.”

** Middle linebacker Joe Schobert went out on a limb for the second time this year, picking Wisconsin, his alma mater, to beat Ohio State on Saturday in the Big Ten title game. The Buckeyes won the first meeting 38-7.

“We figured out what we did wrong last time and we’ll come back and give it a fight,” he said.

** The Browns and local Marines will host their annual toy drive to benefit Toys for Tots before the game Sunday. Fans are encouraged to bring new, unwrapped gifts worth at least $10 for kids in need within Cuyahoga County.

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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