Denzel Ward shined on the field during the Browns’ mandatory minicamp this past week.
But what really stood out to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was the rookie cornerback's approach off the field. The fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft, he said, came to work with neither an ego nor sense of entitlement.
“Both he and Myles — I’ll have to say this, I want to be honest with this – have fit into the locker room faster than most rookies that I’ve had the chance to draft,” Williams said Thursday as Cleveland finished offseason workouts. “I don’t move them up the depth chart without the understanding of how they're fitting in with the other veterans that play on the field.”
Ward — much like Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in 2017 who quickly gained the respect of his older teammates — had little difficulty earning similar status. Part of that’s his ability in between the lines and part is how he handles himself in the locker room.
That, Williams said, is the key to working your way up the depth chart. It’s how Garrett made his way up to the first-team defense at this time last year and how Ward, the former Ohio State star, earned his keep. “When a veteran comes to me and says, ‘Hey coach, we’re better when Denzel is out there,’” Williams said. “‘So really? Now you’re taking ownership of him? Oh really? Now you’re mentoring him? We’ll see. I will give him a couple of reps out there, and we will see.’
“After that, when you give that kid the opportunity and that he fits in the room, as opposed to just anointing him because we drafted him. He hasn’t played in this league. I don’t anoint anybody. Both he and Myles got the acceptance of everyone faster than most rookies have had. “
Ward, a twitchy defender who led the Buckeyes with 15 pass breakups last season, demonstrated that ability in workouts against top-flight receivers in Jarvis Landry and Josh Gordon. He got the better of Gordon during OTAs in a team drill and had a pair of PBUs while facing off against Landry in one-on-one drills Wednesday.
On top of that, Williams said, Ward came to Berea looking to learn from his veteran teammates, not show them up.
“He fits into the locker room well,” he said. “Now, he’s going to have to light it up and play against good players. I have to do a good job of helping him and coaching him in the ways that coach him to his strengths. He is one of the best press guys that I have seen in the last few years at this level. He still has a ways to go, but coming in, he has a base of knowledge that is pretty good.”