Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

T.J. Ward is, if nothing else, adaptable

TJ Ward new defenseHeading into the 2013 NFL season, Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward is getting ready to play under his third defensive coordinator in just his fourth season in the league.

If nothing else, Ward sounds highly adaptable.

Over the weekend, Ward talked about the changes that defensive coordinator Ray Horton is bringing to Berea.

“He’s always ramped up; he’s always ready,” Ward said on the team’s website. “He’s always here to pump you up. You hear him on the field, and he’s always giving out checks and calls, running around. Besides that, it’s the ferocity of his defense. It’s an attack style, all downhill. We’re really getting after the guys. That’s what I’m most excited about.”

Of course, Ward embraced Dick Jauron’s defense two years ago when Jauron took over as defensive coordinator.

“It’s not going to be as difficult as our defense was last year,” Ward said at the time. “We had a bunch of schemes and a bunch of techniques and calls that, I think at times, confused some of the guys on defense and maybe our cohesion wasn’t there as well last year. But I think this year it’s more basic and you just use your athletic ability and skills as a football player to make plays.”

It’s questionable just how many plays the Browns defense made under Jauron, especially against the pass. The pass defense was statistically worse in 2012 compared to 2011, giving up more yards per game (245 vs. 185), more touchdown passes (27 vs. 16) and allowing a higher completion percentage by opposing quarterbacks (63 percent vs. 56.5 percent).

There are a lot of factors that go into those numbers, of course, primarily the difference between playing the Giants, Indianapolis (with Andrew Luck), Washington (with RG3) and Denver in 2012, as opposed to Seattle (pre-Russell Wilson), St. Louis, Jacksonville and Indianapolis (pre-Luck) in 2011. But it is easy to see why Ward is ready for a change.

Ward’s comments about Horton’s defense are encouraging and fit in with what first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo said last week.

“If everything is going well, I think this defense could be the best in the league,” Mingo said published reports. “We have a lot of players that can contribute and help this team win. We’ve got a lot of rushers. We’ve got corners on the back end. We’ve got D-linemen that can hold those blocks and get off and make plays. We’ve got linebackers that can come up and tackle the run and get back in coverage as well. So we have a lot of tools that we can use.”

One other factor that hasn’t changed in the past two years is the Browns questionable depth in the defensive secondary. Two years ago, after Ward and Joe Haden, the roster included Sheldon Brown, Mike Adams, Coye Francies, rookie Buster Skrine and undrafted free agent Carl Gettis.

Ward, Haden and Skrine remain and are will be joined this year by, among others, free-agent Chris Owens, second-year players Johnson Bademosi and Tashaun Gibson, and rookies Jamoris Slaughter and Leon McFadden. It may take a while for that group to come together, so hopefully Mingo is right when he talks about the defense.

For his part, Ward sounds ready to be a leader on the defense.

“I’m stepping out on this field every day going 100 percent, trying to be a leader, and teaching the young guys what this level of football is all about and how you need to approach it because I’ve been through it,” Ward said. “These guys are eager to learn, and eager to know what this NFL thing, this Browns thing is all about. They want to hear about your experiences, what you’ve gone through, and what you learned from it. It’s good that I can share that and hand that down.”

Hopefully Ward (and Haden) can get the younger players in the secondary up to speed in a hurry because Ward is right – Horton’s defense is going to be fun to watch.

And if the Browns can actually put it together on the field, we may not have to write this story again in a couple of years.

(Photo by Getty Images)

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