Ward Prepares to Answer the Critics

It's not often that a high second-round pick feels he has something to prove, but new Browns safety T.J. Ward feels that's very much the case. Despite all the criticism of their pick, the Browns braintrust feels Ward will prove them right...

Normally a story on a rookie determined to prove his critics wrong is about a player taken late in the draft determined to prove he should have been taken higher.

With Browns' safety T.J. Ward, it's just the opposite. The Browns picked Ward 38th in the draft last month. Virtually every draft analyst had Ward as a third round pick or lower. NFLDraftScout.com ranked Ward as the 95th best player in the draft.

"I respect everybody's opinion," coach Eric Mangini said after the Browns concluded their minicamp. "Sometime late in the season they'll have if the draft was held today, who would have gone where.

"Why does Tom Brady go in the sixth round? You try to take the guesswork out of it, but it's people. You do the best you can to get the right choices."

The Browns had to get a safety out of the draft. Eric Berry was drafted by the Chiefs two spots before the Browns drafted cornerback Joe Haden seventh overall. In selecting Haden the Browns passed on safety Earl Thomas, who went 14th to the Seahawks.

The Browns' next pick after selecting 38th overall was the 71st pick, which was eventually traded to the Eagles along with two fifth-round choices for the 59th pick, which was used on running back Montario Hardesty.

Taylor Mays, a free safety from Southern Cal, was passed over in favor of Ward. Mays was drafted 11 picks later by the 49ers.

"When I looked at (Ward) and spent time with him (before the draft) he reminded me a lot of Lawyer Milloy," Mangini said. "I think he's got outstanding instincts in the running game. He's one of these guys that can navigate through traffic and it's almost like the blockers don't exist. Very rarely does he miss tackles.

"I don't want to throw the black cat on him because everybody misses tackles in the secondary at some point, but he's very good in that area and I like that a lot about him."

Pro Football Weekly had a different opinion in its scouting report on Ward: "Is not a fundamental tackler. Misses too many in search of the kill shot and needs to wrap up consistently."

Ward, 5-11, 211 pounds and barrel-chested, did not start in high school until his senior year. Three games into the season he suffered a ruptured left patellar tendon. He earned a starting job at cornerback as a freshman as a walk-on at Oregon in 2006, but tore his left MCL. Six weeks later he needed another operation on the same knee. In 2007 he played in all 13 games without a start. Blood was drained from his knee every two weeks. He started all 13 games in 2008, and then last season the injury jinx bit again. He missed five games with a sprained ankle.

The Browns are counting on Ward to help stabilize the back end of the defense. Last year four players started at free safety. Brodney Pool, now playing for the Jets, started 10 games. Hank Poteat started one, Mike Furrey two and Mike Adams three games.

"Football is a physical game," Ward said. "Injuries are part of it. Injuries are not on my mind when I play.

"Hopefully I'll prove (the critics) wrong. I make the most of the opportunities that present themselves. If a receiver is coming across the middle it's my job to separate him from the ball. That's what I try to do every time I make a tackle. Every tackle isn't going to be a big one."

Ward made 193 tackles in his college career. He forced four fumbles in 2008 when he made 101 tackles.

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