Browns rookie safety T.J. Ward was the 38th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and has his eyes locked on the starting free safety position.
T.J., whose first name is Terrell, is a product of the famed De La Salle (Calif.) high school program where he didn't start until his senior year, and then suffered a season-ending knee injury.
During his career at Oregon he struggled with knee and ankle injuries, but scouts loved his toughness, big hitting, and support against the run when he was in the lineup.
He was a bone-crunching, helmet-busting hitter who went full-speed all the time, and several of his big hits are memorialized here on YouTube.
Ward is a former cornerback who has been praised for having fantastic football instincts and the ability to diagnose plays.
The major knock on Ward coming out of college, aside from his injury history, was his inability to cover receivers.
He quickly impressed the Browns coaches with his pass coverage ability, including an interception of Jake Delhomme during the May 27 OTA practice, that Cleveland's The Plain Dealer reporter Tony Grossi noted.
"I think they [Browns] consider him [Ward] capable of covering NFL tight ends and receivers," wrote Grossi.
That's a big-time statement from a veteran reporter who has the inside scoop on the Browns.
Ward continued his quality coverage work with an interception return for a score and a pass defensed during the June 7th OTA.
If Ward continues this play in training camp, then Michael Adams may have a difficult time holding him off.
Head coach Eric Mangini has no problem starting a rookie at safety, or both safeties for that matter.
"If they’re the best guys, you may take some lumps early because they are rookies, but typically those guys continue to move up and excel as they play and gain experience,” said Magini.
Very few coaches have the self-assurance to make such a statement and mean it. Ward's only real opposition seems to be Adams, who is a solid player. The competition should be a spirited battle.
Ward had been running with the first team defense when he recently came down with tightness in his leg. That injury put Ward on the dreaded stationary bike during the recent mini-camp. This is likely just a minor setback, and Ward will probably be full go when training camp starts.
The Browns backfield has been revamped with the additions of corner backs Sheldon Brown, Joe Haden, and fellow rookie safety Larry Asante. With the addition of Ward, the secondary should have a completely different tenor this season, and last season's macabre pass defense performances will be a distant memory.