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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.

Read more…

New sheriffs in the Browns secondary

We really liked what we heard last week from second-year defensive backs Joe Haden and T.J. Ward as they talked about their expectations for the upcoming season and their plans for taking on greater leadership roles with the team.

“As a rookie, you can come in and be a leader, but how are you going to tell a 10-year veteran how to do something when it’s your third game?” Haden said in published reports. “This year, we have a year under our belt. We feel more comfortable not wondering how you’re going to feel in Week 7, how are we going to feel in Week 8. We feel more comfortable. We know what’s going on. We know the system we’re in isn’t going to be too hard.”

“We’re definitely going to take over the defense,” Ward said in published reports. “We’ll see about the team, but we’re definitely going to be leaders in our own right.”

One thing that really stood out is both players seemed charged up about the switch to Dick Jauron’s defensive system.

“It’s not going to be as difficult as our defense was last year,” Ward said. “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.”

“When we’re looking at the scheme as the defensive backfield, one thing that (defensive backs) coach (Jerome) Henderson said was they are going to put you in a position so you can make a play,” Haden said. “It’s more you versus your opponent, you versus the man across from you, more than trying to beat them mentally.

“I like my chances. I like T.J.’s chances. I like (cornerback) Sheldon’s [Brown] chances. (It should help knowing) what you got to do, just being really confident in the play call.”

The comments about the defensive system being simpler this year stand out even more now that cornerback Eric Wright has left the Browns and signed with Detroit.

We’re not going to bag on the previous regime, especially on the defensive side. But the comments about how the system may have been overly complicated last year helps explain why the secondary struggled at times, most notably against Baltimore in Week 3.

How much of the problems – which were magnified in that game – were the result of a coaching staff trying to do too much with a relatively inexperienced secondary?

Wright was ripped for his performance in that game and never seemed to fully recover, at least in the eyes of many fans.

“It’s hard to dig yourself out of that type of hole when you have the worst game of your career,” Wright told The Plain Dealer over the weekend. “Then, the team’s losing, and we had a young corner in Joe Haden who looked great playing. There was a lot of negative attention around my struggles, and it was hard to overcome.”

And off-season comments from Browns GM Heckert – “We thought we had three really good corners. Eric Wright, whatever happened to him I have no idea. If Eric Wright would have played like he played the year before, we probably would have had one of top (groups of) three guys around. But Eric Wright didn’t play very well.” – clearly didn’t help Wright feel wanted in Cleveland.

Wright’s departure once again leaves the Browns thin at the position. After starters Haden and Sheldon Brown, the roster shows Mike Adams, Coye Francies, rookie Buster Skrine and undrafted free agent Carl Gettis.

Additionally, Brown thinks Wright would have been a good fit for Jauron’s system.

“I knew the staff that they were bringing in, I knew the system, and it’s a system that he would’ve really loved,” Brown told The Plain Dealer. “I wish him the best of luck. I know he’ll do well wherever he goes because he’s a talented player.”

So while we’re a bit worried about the team’s depth at cornerback – shades of last year – we’re encouraged by the attitude of the players who are still on the team.

“I get paid to cover,” Haden said. “(Ward) gets paid to hit. Whoever comes in here, we’re going to try to get them into what we’ve got going. But we’re going to do what we’ve got to do.”

Receivers around the league have been warned.

(Photo by Getty Images)

A Tale of Two Halves in Tampa

What happened?

How did the Browns look so good in taking a 14-3 lead against Tampa, only to see the offense revert to 2009 levels of play calling and execution, eventually turning what looked like a sure opening-day win into a 17-14 loss to the Buccaneers?

It wasn’t even so much that they lost – this team is still rebuilding and will lose more games than it wins this season – as much as how they lost. The one thing you didn’t want to see was Jake Delhomme turn the ball over and make some of the bad decisions that haunted him last season in Carolina. He really needed to carry over his performance from the preseason, both for his confidence and to retain the confidence of the fan base.

But after leading the Browns to the early lead on a 41-yard pass to Mohamed Massaquoi and a 10-yard run by Peyton Hillis, the bad Jake Delhomme returned.

With a chance to put points on the board at the end of the first half after a Mike Adams interception, Delhomme made a horrible throw under pressure, Ronde Barber intercepted and returned the ball to the Browns 3. Tampa then scored right before halftime, trimming the Browns lead to 14-10.

The Browns moved the ball well in the first half, gaining 202 yards, but could only total 138 yards in the second half as offensive coordinator Brian Daboll fell back into his 2009 bad habits of inexplicable play calling. Daboll, supposedly “more comfortable” this year had Delhomme throw three straight passes – the third of which was intercepted – on the series following Eric Barton’s fumble recovery on the six-yard-line. Why?

After completing passes to seven different receivers in the first half, the wide receivers became an after thought about halfway through the third quarter. Was that play calling? Or another example of how this group of receivers just really isn’t all the good?

After Hillis fumbled the ball away at the Tampa 15-yard-line early in the third quarter, the offense ground to a halt. From that point on, the Browns only gained two first downs and had only one play of more than 10 yards.

The Browns also threw 38 passes to only 23 rushes for the game. The team can not win that way, especially on a day when Browns rushers were gaining 4.5 yards per run. Now obviously the game situation can dictate the play calling, but if the plan was to throw the ball that many times, it’s going to be a long year.

And going back to Barton’s fumble recovery for a minute, after falling on the ball he just laid there; why didn’t he get up and run with the ball? He wasn’t down by contact – at least not until defensive end Jason Trusnik jumped on him for no reason. It may have changed the play calling if the Browns hadn’t been starting the drive on their own 6.

OK, it was just one game. For all that went wrong, the Browns did some things well and we’re more disappointed than discouraged. They essentially lost this game through their mistakes, rather than Tampa beating them, but that shows that this team has virtually no margin for error this year; they can’t make mistakes and hope to win.

The running game was solid; the defense put pressure on Freeman, sacking him three times; and the young secondary held up well, with rookie T.J. Ward totaling 10 tackles, a forced fumble and a forced interception.

So while the team has some things to build on from this game, they also have plenty to work on as they prepare for the home opener against Kansas City.

Pondering Preseason Prognostications

With training camp just around the corner, the media is starting to compile its list of preseason “favorites,” working on “power rankings” and telling us what will happen this year in the National Football League.

All without the benefit of a single practice, preseason game or training camp injury.

OK, that’s a little harsh. Just like all of us they have space that needs to be filled, and since I’m actually reading what they are writing, I’m part of the problem, not the solution.


Every year it seems as if 31 teams have a chance, have made progress in the off-season, picked up some significant players and are looking at a solid year. One team – Cleveland – is perpetually cited as the one and only team in the league that is absolutely void of all hope.

Consider ESPN’s power rankings, which put the Browns 28, which is somehow three spots lower than where they finished last year, saying “The first year of the Mike Holmgren era could be rough. This team lacks talent across the board.”

No one is realistically expecting the Browns to post an 11-5 record this year, not after what’s gone on here the past few years. But to actually drop?

The best one is SI’s Peter King, who in his Monday Morning Quarterback column writes that there are 28 teams that could make the playoffs, with the Browns, of course, one of the four that have no chance.

Somehow Detroit and Kansas City, in King’s eyes, have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs, but not Cleveland.

Let’s think about this a minute: the Lions were 2-14 last season, 26th in offense and 32nd in defense, but they can make the playoffs this year. Of course, one of their wins was against the Browns, but that was due more to coaching incompetence than the Lions having better talent.

Whatever you say Peter.

I know it doesn’t mean anything, but it’s still frustrating. The Browns can’t get this turned around over night, but with the addition of Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert to run the front office, another year in the system of Eric Mangini and Rob Ryan, and a powerhouse running attack (8th in the NFL last year!) to keep the heat off Jake Delhomme and the defense off the field, things are slowly moving in the right direction.

And no matter what happens, just by simply not having Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn around makes the team better.

I’m just glad things are about to start for real.


More good news from Brownstown, as Montario Hardesty and TJ Ward have both reportedly agreed to contracts to they will be in camp when the veterans report this weekend.

Now the team just needs to work out a deal with Joe Haden and they will be set.

Sept. 12 can’t get here soon enough.

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