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Notes: With Taven Bryan ruled out, Tommy Togiai excited for first NFL start

BEREA — Tommy Togiai’s time has come.

The second-year defensive tackle, a fourth-round pick out of Ohio State, is slated to make his first NFL start Sunday against the Falcons in Atlanta. He’ll fill in for Taven Bryan, who was ruled out Friday with a hamstring injury.

“I’m really excited,” Togiai said. “I mean, I’m sad that my boy Taven’s down and can’t be out there. But I know I’ve got that ‘next-man-up’ mentality. So I’m going to go out there and play as hard as I can, do my job and do what I can to help the team win.”

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Togiai was a healthy scratch for the first nine games last season and finished his rookie year with 16 tackles, a half-sack and a pass defensed in six games. He began this season as the No. 3 tackle behind Jordan Elliott and Bryan and has played 44 snaps, making two tackles and getting a half-sack.

“Tommy has done a nice job really going back to last year,” coach Kevin Stefanski said. “When he gets in there, he finds the ball. Plays hard. Strong football player.”

“I know Tommy’s ready,” cornerback Denzel Ward said. “He’s a Buckeye, so I know he’s ready. He’s going to be good.”

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Togiai (6-foot-2, 296 pounds) said he got leaner and gained muscle in the offseason and improved his hand usage.

“And then just confidence,” he said. “Confidence in my play, confidence in myself and my teammates trust in me that I’m going to get my job done and going out to play and showing it.”

Starting defensive ends Myles Garrett (shoulder, biceps) and Jadeveon Clowney (ankle) were listed as questionable despite not practicing all week. If they can’t play, Elliott will be the only starting lineman available.

Rookies Perrion Winfrey and Roderick Perry II are next in line at tackle, with rookies Alex Wright and Isaiah Thomas, Isaac Rochell and Curtis Weaver at end.

“What Coach Kiffin’s been telling us all week, just come together as a unit, play together as a unit,” Togiai said, referring to line coach Chris Kiffin.

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INJURY REPORT

Ward (ribs, back), linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (groin) and left guard Joel Bitonio (biceps) will play vs. the Falcons. They were limited in practice for the second straight day after not practicing Wednesday.

Ward said he was hurt Sept. 22 in the win over the Steelers but wasn’t worried he’d miss this week’s game.

“Nah, just precautionary,” he said.

** Backup tackle Joe Haeg (concussion) was ruled out.

** Right tackle Jack Conklin (knee) and tight end David Njoku (knee) returned to practice after resting Thursday and will play Sunday. Conklin was limited Friday and Njoku was a full participant.

** For the Falcons, running back/returner Cordarrelle Patterson (rest/knee) was listed as questionable. He was limited Friday after missing two practices. He’s the only player on their injury list.

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE

Njoku had four catches in six targets in the first two games, including only one of each in the opener. The ball finally came his way against the Steelers, as he caught nine passes for 89 yards and a touchdown.

Tight ends coach T.C. McCartney said it’s hard for players to stay patient.

“Everybody wants the ball,” he said. “He improved tremendously over just the course of time I have been here from 2020 in his playing without the ball. We talk about that all the time. He has done a great job of improving and just being a complete tight end.”

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The plan is for Njoku to continue to be a key piece of the passing game.

“That kind of production is what we want from him. I know that is what he wants,’ McCartney said. “Hopefully we can continue to get him opportunities and put him in good positions, and when we do that, he will make plays for us.”

POSTER MATERIAL

Rookie cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. was in coverage on the catch seen around the world. Steelers rookie George Pickens pulled an Odell Beckham Jr., making a spectacular reaching, one-handed catch in primetime.

“It’s the NFL. I’m pretty sure a lot of receivers can make that play,” Emerson said. “I mean, it was a great catch by him.”

Emerson was in close coverage but thought he could’ve done more to prevent the catch.

“Yeah, I feel like I could have done something different,” he said. “I probably could have just played through his hands, knocked the ball out, get a PBU, instead of trying to find the ball.”

ONE-ON-ONE

Ward got his wish and followed Steelers receiver Diontae Johnson for much of the game. Cleveland’s corners usually stick to a side, but Ward has been pushing to cover the opponent’s best receiver.

“I definitely enjoy those matchups going against their No. 1 guys, so I definitely look forward to that in the future, going against more guys like that,” Ward said.

Johnson had eight catches for 84 yards.

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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