Browns defensive backs coach DeWayne Walker has coached a physical top-five draft pick at cornerback before. While he was a defensive backs coach in Jacksonville, Walker coached then-rookie Jalen Ramsey, who is now an All-Pro.
So when Walker complimented Denzel Ward after the No. 4 pick's debut, it was heard loud and clear. "He did a pretty good job," Walker said.
The play that had everyone talking was when Ward was flagged for a post-play taunt of Giants receiver Hunter Sharp. Eli Manning threw a quick-out route to Sharp, and Ward broke on the ball. He hit Sharp as Sharp was securing the catch to force an incompletion. Ward's skill was on full display, and it should have resulted in a Giants punt. But Ward taunted Sharp, drawing a flag and extending the drive.
Even with the penalty, Ward showed what he's capable of. That's why the Browns selected him so high. He's already proving his worth. Now, it's about understanding the situational nuances of the NFL. The penalty, in a vacuum, cost the Browns a field goal early in the game. But his play on the field, sans the taunt, jumps out on tape.
"The skill set is there," Walker said. "He just needs reps in games."
One thing stood out about his debut: Ward is a physical corner. His height and weight tell a different tale, but his play can be hard-nosed. Walker knows Ward's physical attributes aren't conductive to physical play, but Ward doesn't care. Walker likes to tease Ward about his size. Teasing aside, his teammates and coaches learned of his physical play early, and now they see it often.
"They like my physicality," Ward said. "Told me to stay physical, just watch what I do."
On paper, the penalty was a teachable moment, as Walker and Christian Kirksey were able to corral Ward and walk him through the play. As the preseason rolls on, the NFL will continue to be strict about taunting — and helmet to helmet contact.
In the speed of the game, the hit that sparked the taunting looked like a flag-able offense. Walker thought the hit was flagged, not Ward's post-play actions. But upon further film study, neither Ward nor Walker thought it was illegal. Ward even posted the highlight — with the penalty — to his social media platforms, showing off his confidence and play-making ability.
Was he a little nervous about the flag? Perhaps. Nobody wants to be ejected from their first NFL action. Or their first NFL tackle.
"I thought they were going to eject me," Ward said. "I'm just glad I didn't get ejected."
He didn't, though. Altogether, he played 16 snaps. Some were in man-to-man. Some were in zone. Ward didn't play a lot of zone at Ohio State; it's a different concept for him. And even though he's impressed so far, he's still learning.
"We play multiple coverages," Walker said. "So he's understanding where his eyes should be. And being able to differentiate where the coverages that relate to the pass concepts."