One of the rookie cornerback?s first goals was to earn a starting job. Check. Next was paying off the mortgage on his mom?s house. Check. Then it was signing his NFL contract and reporting to training camp on time. Done.
But to this point, nothing has slowed the speedy Ward, who has impressed his teammates and Cleveland?s coaches. After an eye-popping spring camp, the former Ohio State All-American has joined the first-team defense, and the Browns believe the 21-year-old is ready for the weekly challenge of covering elite wide receivers.
Ward?s up for it.
?I?m very comfortable in who I am as a player,? he said Friday without the slightest trace of arrogance. ?I?m a fast player.?
While Baker Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback selected first overall by the Browns, waits his turn behind Tyrod Taylor, Ward?s already on the field.
And there?s no reason to think he won?t stay there.
Ward stood out during the Browns? first training camp practice on Thursday with several solid plays. He made a leaping interception down the sideline in front of three-time Pro Bowler Jarvis Landry during 11-on-11 drills, and Ward looked comfortable whether in goal-line situations or third-and-longs.
He did get beat on a go route by fellow rookie Antonio Callaway, who made a late adjustment to haul in a deep pass from Mayfield.
The catch drew applause from Browns fans, but Ward said the reception probably wouldn?t have counted in a game.
?I think he stepped out of bounds,? Ward said, smiling. ?They caught it with the camera from over here, so they didn?t really see it, but that was a great catch. He can definitely run.?
So can Ward Willie Snead IV Jersey , whose quickness and ability to play man-to-man ?press? coverage is what made him so appealing to the Browns, who surprised many draft experts by taking him so high after he was projected to be picked later in the first round.
His high profile notwithstanding, Ward has shown a willingness to work and improve since the day he arrived.
?He?s pretty quiet off the field,? said linebacker Christian Kirksey. ?He?s not a person that is going to sit there and just talk all day. He?s going to do his job. He?s going to do it to the best of his ability. He?s very coachable. I believe that once he really gets comfortable with his role of being a lockdown corner, I think that the sky?s the limit for him.?
Ward has immersed himself in Cleveland?s playbook, and beyond watching daily practice film, he?s been taking a peek at tape of some future opponents.
The Browns open the season on Sept. 9 against Pittsburgh, which means Ward will make his regular-season debut against Steelers star Antonio Brown, widely considered the league?s best all-around receiver.
?The game?s not too big for him,? coach Hue Jackson said. ?Those moments are not too big for him. He?s going to face some of the best receivers in the league. Think of the first game of the year, playing Antonio Brown, the best guy on the planet. So you better have real thick skin, and he has that.?
It?s helped Ward to prepare for Brown that he?s been going head-to-head with Landry and Josh Gordon, who is currently away from the team to address health problems.
Ward said he?s not intimidated by any matchup.
?Those guys are elite players, great guys and players,? Ward said. ?But we all put our shoes and pants on the same way Otis Sistrunk Jersey , and just come out here and work.?
Ward was the final member of Cleveland?s rookie class to sign, finalizing his four-year, $29 million contract on Wednesday a day before players reported.
The deal includes a $19 million signing bonus, and the financial security prompted Ward, who grew up just outside Cleveland, to pay off the mortgage for his mother, Nicole. Ward?s father, Paul, died two years ago.
?My mom has done a lot for me,? he said. ?So whatever I can do to make things easier for my mom, I?m down to do it.?
He has everything covered.
NOTES: Greg Robinson, competing with Shon Coleman to replace Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, was carted off with a head injury and will be evaluated. ? LB Mychal Kendricks participated in team drills for the first time since undergoing offseason ankle surgery. He was signed as a free agent in June after winning a Super Bowl with Philadelphia. ? The team signed DL Zaycoven Henderson and WR Blake Jackson.
If any No. 1 seed should know not to overlook an opponent that was last into the playoffs, the Nashville Predators fit that bill.
After all, Nashville got the last invitation to the NHL postseason ball last season and then stuck around all the way into the middle of June, winning the Western Conference title before falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.
This time Andre Branch Jersey , the Predators were first in line for the postseason, winning their first Presidents? Trophy with 117 points. They are in the position of overwhelming favorites as they welcome the Colorado Avalanche to Bridgestone Arena for Thursday night?s opener of the Western quarterfinals.
?There?s so many good teams, it doesn?t matter if you?re eighth or first,? Nashville captain Roman Josi said. ?You saw what happened last year. For us, it?s not a different approach. We know the first round, it doesn?t matter who we are going to play, it?s going to be extremely hard.?
Some would say that Josi is just being politically correct when it comes to this series. Nashville (53-18-11) owns 10 consecutive wins over Colorado (43-30-9) dating to the last week of the 2015-16 season. It outscored the Avalanche 17-8 in four wins this season, including two last month in Denver during a stretch in which it ripped off 14 wins in 15 games.
Despite all of the Predators? advantages ? arguably the most depth in the NHL, the best 1-through-4 defense corps in the league and home ice ? there is a window through which Colorado can climb to make this a series and perhaps pull the upset.
First things first: Avalanche goalie Jonathan Bernier must be the best player on the ice in at least one game. While that might seem laughable, since many fans remember him allowing four goals on 16 shots in Nashville?s Game 6 win over Anaheim last spring in the conference finals, Bernier actually has a good track record against the Predators.
In his career, Bernier is 9-4-0 in 14 starts with a 2.37 goals-against average, a .917 save percentage and a pair of shutouts. With Semyon Varlamov on the shelf for the season?s remainder, Bernier is the man in net, and he came up big in the regular-season finale, making 32 saves to beat St. Louis 5-2.
?I think if we play the way we played tonight Malcom Brown Jersey , we have a good chance,? Bernier said. ?If you want to get further, you have to beat the best team. We start with the best team.?
For the Avalanche to beat the best, they might want to do something about Filip Forsberg, who has shredded them in his career. In 20 games, Forsberg has 13 goals and 11 assists. That includes an overtime game-winner on March 4 in Denver and two goals in a return engagement March 16.
Secondly, Hart Trophy candidate Nathan MacKinnon must play like it against Nashville?s top two defense pairings of Josi and Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban. MacKinnon ended a nine-game goalless streak against St. Louis. If he finds his scoring touch, Colorado?s chances increase.
Finally, the Avalanche must win at least one game in Bridgestone, where they?ll have to deal with arguably the loudest crowd in the league and perhaps even dodge the flying catfish.
?It?s the best team in the league this year and we know they have all the pressure,? Colorado right winger Mikko Rantanen said. ?It?s going to be a huge test for us.? Womens Mason Cole Jersey