Denzel Ward's strong start to his NFL career is just the beginning, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said.
The Browns rookie cornerback leads the team with three interceptions and earned AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for blocking a field goal in Sunday's win over the Ravens. And throughout it all, Ward has demonstrated why Williams and Cleveland believe he'll be a cornerstone for years to come.
"He's done well. I'm proud of him, we all should be. It's just the tip of the iceberg. He has a lot of improving to do, because he fits right in," Williams said Friday as the Browns prepare to host the Los Angeles Chargers.
"I'm very happy with how well he's acclimated to the NFL and to what we do, and to his teammates. That's good. He's got to fit into the locker room and he does. He gets an opportunity to play the ball game the way that it's supposed to be played."
Ward, the former Ohio State standout and fourth overall pick, has instincts, Williams said, that you simply can't coach. "You either have that or you don't."
"We have several other guys that are in that room, too, that do – have some instincts that are rare instincts. We just have to continue to improve," he continued.
"He's just a rookie still and will continue to improve. Every day is an interview. When he goes out onto the practice field and he comes into the meeting rooms, he responds favorably. I'm very proud of him."
— Already thin at wide receiver, the Browns could be down another pass-catcher. Rookie Derrick Willies suffered a shoulder injury in Friday's practice and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game. Coach Hue Jackson said the undrafted free agent from Texas Tech landed awkwardly and was unable to finish the session.
— For the Chargers, rookie safety Derwin James has emerged as a "big-time pro player," Jackson said. "You see him making some of those same splash plays for their defense," he said. "He's athletic. He can run. He's tough. He can cover. He can blitz. He is an every-down player. I think they got a fine prospect." James, the 17th overall pick, has 31 tackles, three sacks and an interception.
— The Browns hope to get more touches for dynamic running back Duke Johnson, who has taken on a lesser role thus far compared to a breakout 2017 season. After finishing with 1,041 all-purpose yards last year, Johnson has been something of a role player behind lead back Carlos Hyde and a new-look group of receivers that includes Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry. Johnson, however, delivered a series of big overtimes runs to help lift Cleveland to a win over Baltimore.
"He's a huge part of what is going to be our success on offense. He has to continue to work," Jackson said. "We have to continue to find ways to get him the ball because he is a playmaker. I think that those things will take care of themselves as we go."