Gregg Williams wants more shutdown cornerbacks on the Browns defense, and John Dorsey has certainly obliged with a bevy of new options.
The latest, No. 4 overall pick Denzel Ward, might just rise to the top when defensive backs battle for spots in the rotation throughout OTAs and training camp. Dorsey, though, has ensured nothing will be handed to him, no matter how confident they are he’s built for the role.
“He has the speed. He has the athleticism. He has the quickness. He has the ball skills,” Dorsey said.
And when the rookies join up with the veterans for the team’s ongoing offseason workouts, he’ll have competition.
Since Dorsey took over as general manager in early December, the Browns have added eight new faces to the defensive back room while subtracting six. It’s a major overhaul for a position group that struggled from start to finish in 2017, as the team was among the worst in pass defense, passing touchdowns allowed and finished second-to-last in total interceptions.
Change was inevitable, and it came in waves at the start of the league year.
Green Bay’s Damarious Randall, a cornerback for the first three seasons of his NFL career, came to Cleveland via trade and is slated to play free safety. Terrance Mitchell and T.J. Carrie, both of whom were regular starters with their previous teams, were quickly signed at the start of free agency. E.J. Gaines, a regular starter for Buffalo last season, was added a week later.
Starting cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Briean Boddy-Calhoun are back, while veteran Jason McCourty was among the six sent elsewhere. Ward, sixth-round selection Simeon Thomas and last year’s fourth-round pick Howard Wilson, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, are among a crowded, talented group that will compete with them for spots in a revamped secondary.
“Nothing is given in this league; you have to compete for everything that you want to accomplish,” Carrie said. “Though I’m coming here to be a starter, that is still yet to be seen. I still have to display my talents to this staff and to this organization, that they can feel comfortable enough to trust me being on the field. Competition is something that I embrace and something that I have been doing for a very long time. I’m excited to get started.”
That mentality will be necessary for all the defensive backs, including Ward, who knows a thing or two about being surrounded by players with a similar level of talent as he possesses.
Ward is the latest in a sustained spurt of Ohio State cornerbacks landing in the NFL as first-round picks. Last year, it was Marshon Lattimore (Saints), who went on to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, and Gareon Conley (Raiders). The year before, Eli Apple (Giants) was a top-10 selection.
Ward played with all of them and, as a result, had to wait his turn before receiving significant playing time. He was a full-time starter for only this past season but the Browns saw so much to like.
They believe his skill set will immediately translate to the next level. He’ll just have to prove it in a competition loaded with players who boast years of starting experience.
“He is really fast. He has superb feet. He is on an island over there in man coverage,” assistant general manager Eliot Wolf said. “We just felt like also being a one-and-a-half year starter that he had a lot of upside, and he hasn’t played his best football yet.”