Denzel Ward, like many of his teammates, had a dream to make it to the NFL. Now that he's here, he's just living it.
When Ward was asked Friday about what it was like inking his rookie contract, which he signed Wednesday, he perked up and answered, visibly excited.
"It was a dream," Ward said. "Since I was a little kid, I always wanted to make it to the NFL. To get to this position, where I am at in my career – making it to the NFL, being able to sign an NFL contract – it is just an exciting feeling. Just ready to get to work now."
Ward was one of the final first-round picks to sign his rookie deal, but as long as it was done before the Browns opened training camp Thursday, that was fine with him. Both sides came to an agreement and moved on. Now that the contract talk is out of the way, the fourth overall pick in can get to work.
Now that he's here, Ward is making an instant impact. Following minicamp and OTAs, Ward began to earn first-team defense repetitions. It was earned, yes, but it was earned quickly.
"That was definitely one of my goals," Ward said. "I wanted to come out here and compete, and show my teammates and coaches that I have the ability to be in the starting lineup – just prove it to them, really."
He proved it. Going against the NFL's leading receiver from a year ago is a tall task, but Ward was up for the challenge. He held his own against Jarvis Landry throughout the summer, which earned him early respect of his teammates.
Landry got the best of Ward in Thursday's practice, hauling in a one-handed catch against Ward, in what might have been Ward's first "Welcome to the NFL" moment. Ward didn't mind. He had to get him back, so he shut him down on a play later in practice. When a member of the media told Ward that Landry was special and unlike most of the receivers Ward will face, Ward replied with "I hope" as he laughed.
Although he's experiencing success in the infancy of his time with the Browns, he isn't doing it alone. The Browns' secondary is young, but one teammate Ward has leaned upon for help is newly acquired safety Damarious Randall.
"Even off of the field, he has been helping me with the playbook and learning," Ward said. "Just everything, like giving me tips out on the field when I do something wrong or need help with something."
So far, those tips are working out for Ward. He's earned a role with the first-team defense before the start of his rookie season of the NFL. He's living his dream.