Another week, another elite receiver for Denzel Ward to shadow.
This time, it's against a former college teammate.
After facing off with the speedy Antonio Brown in Sunday’s season opener, the Browns rookie cornerback will find himself guarding Michael Thomas, the third-year Saints receiver who played with Ward at Ohio State in 2015.
Matchups like these are why Cleveland tabbed Ward with the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft. But coach Hue Jackson made clear the youngster won’t have to do it alone Sunday in New Orleans.
“I still think we play our defense. There are times in games where we feel like he needs to match up, and we will,” Jackson said Thursday. “I still think we play our defense and let’s get him truly understanding of how we play … Obviously, he did a really good job last week. He has to continue to grow every week.”
Ward, who was a freshman with the Buckeyes when Thomas was a fourth-year junior, recorded two interceptions and three pass breakups in his regular-season debut last week. Thomas, meanwhile, caught 16 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown against the Buccaneers.
A second-round pick in 2016, Thomas emerged as one of the league's top receivers last season, using his big frame, strength and athleticism to bully smaller defenders. Ward, considered an undersized corner who uses his speed and ball skills to antagonize pass catchers, doesn’t think it’ll be an issue.
“I went against receivers like him in college and I will in the league,” he said, “so the size doesn’t really make a difference to me. It doesn't really matter who I go against, so I’m looking forward to that match-up.”
— Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams spent three seasons (2009-11) in the same role with the Saints, helping New Orleans win the Super Bowl in 2010. If there’s any extra added motivation for Williams to beat his old team, Jackson doesn’t see it. “Just me knowing Gregg, every game is a big game for Gregg, and it should be,” he said. “I don’t think he’s thinking anything other than preparing the defense to play a really good offensive football team and compete that way. That’s who Gregg is. He loves to compete – we all do – and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
— Rookie left tackle Desmond Harrison was called for two false start penalties against the Steelers last week. Jackson said that can’t happen again in New Orleans, where the crowd noise of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will make calls and the cadence hard to hear.
“Now you’re going into a dome against a different type of rusher, different other things now to be concerned about — crowd noise, those types of things and on turf,” he said. “This will be different, a different challenge for him, but he’s in his process every day as the coaches as we prepare him for Sunday. He has done a good job this week.” Harrison, the former undrafted free agent, turned in mixed results in his NFL debut last weekend.
— The Browns are still talking about the performance Myles Garrett put on in the season opener. “Every time I see him, I tell him ‘Defensive Player of the Year.’ I want him to have that mindset,” wide receiver Jarvis Landry said. “It’s something that we’re going to need out of him the whole season.”
Garrett, the second-year defensive end and first overall NFL Draft pick in 2017, wreaked havoc Sunday, finishing with two sacks, two forced fumbles, two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. The former Texas A&M star said he’s embraced the Browns’ expectations (in addition to his own) to dominate each and every week. “It shows that I’m playmaker and that they believe in me,” he said. “It’s nice of them to believe in me like that and hopefully I can live up to my own expectations.”