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Why Denzel Ward earned first-team reps with Browns defense

Last week, Browns coach Hue Jackson said rookie cornerback Denzel Ward appeared unfazed by the big stage of playing in the NFL.

In Tuesday's practice, the former Ohio State star earned reps with the first-team defense after showing out the week before. It all underscored what's been an impressive showing for Ward, the fourth overall pick in the draft, as organized team activities draw to a close.

"He's earning it. He is working at it," Jackson said. "He's doing good things. He plays a position that we think we have been needing a guy to step up."

Indeed, the Browns tabbed Ward to be a lockdown cornerback in a defense that's been without one for some time. Ward, who grew up down the road in Macedonia, was an All-American with the Buckeyes last season, making two interceptions and 15 pass breakups.

While there's generally a learning curve for rookies, Ward has flashed in OTAs as being a player who can help a defensive secondary that finished second-to-last in interceptions a year ago. Along the way, he's impressed both Jackson and his teammates.

"(He's a) very savvy rookie, very savvy. Very confident," said cornerback T.J. Carrie, the former Raiders starter who signed with Cleveland in free agency.  "I think that when you come into this league, confidence is probably one of your best friends in the sense that you're playing with grown men."

"He's a hell of a player. You know he went to 'that school,'" added second-year safety and former Michigan star Jabrill Peppers. "He's tenacious, great feet, great hips, plays man-to-man, come up and lay the boom and he's a ball hawk, as well. Whether that's punching the ball out or grabbing interceptions, we can use guys like that, for sure."

Ward, of course, has room to improve. Tasked with matching up with some of the league's best receivers next season — Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, A.J. Green to name a few — there's no time to rest now. 

With minicamp -- the last chapter in offseason workouts -- set for next week, Jackson expects Ward to keep growing and learning.

"He needs to continue to do that to continue to be out there," he said, "but we know that he's very talented. That's why we drafted him. He's displayed that since he has been here."

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