As a starting safety in the AFC North Division, third-year Cleveland Brown T.J. Ward has matched up against productive tight ends in Cincinnati’s Jermaine Gresham, Baltimore’s Dennis Pitta and Heath Miller of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
During the final nine games of the 2012 regular season, Ward will see two of the most productive tight ends in NFL history starting with Sunday’s game against San Diego’s Antonio Gates, followed by a late November matchup with Jason Witten in Dallas.
“He’s just one of the best tight ends to ever play,” Ward said of the veteran Gates. “He’s big, very athletic, runs well, catches very well. He’s definitely a challenge to anyone who tries to guard him.
“He’s open a lot. He separates well for someone his size. You see him run over smaller DBs and you see him running past them a lot of times. Even if he is covered, he’s bigger, so he’s very challenging.”
At 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, Gates has a six-inch height advantage over Ward, who checks in at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds. Ward says he has “different techniques” of negating that edge in height.
“You’ve got to figure out what’s going right for you,” Ward said. “I’ve never played against him. I have certain things I’ll use against certain people and it changes throughout the game. It really depends on down-and-distance and all those things.
“Usually, a lot of times, if there is a double going on, it’s mostly on a receiver, but he’s definitely their best receiver, even though he is a tight end, and (Malcom) Floyd’s pretty good, too. When you create that double-team inside, it creates more opportunities for outside receivers.”
Gates has been on the receiving end of 19 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Philip Rivers this year. Rivers has completed 139 of 209 attempts for 1,492 yards and 10 touchdowns against nine interceptions.
“He can make any throw on the field,” Ward said of Rivers. “A lot of times, when he’s hurried, he drops the ball in on the money. He’s very accurate, but sometimes, he doesn’t make the best decisions and he tries to force some balls in there. We’re going to try to capitalize on that and see if we can get a couple interceptions, a couple turnovers.
“We’re going to come into the game prepared. We’re not afraid of anybody, any quarterback, any receivers. We’re going to challenge everything and just try to make plays. We’re focusing on the San Diego Chargers. We’re not looking toward the bye or who we play after that. It’s the San Diego Chargers, Philip Rivers and the rest of their team. That’s where our mindset is.”
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