BEREA— T.J. Ward scored a lot of points with Buckeye fans when he said Jack Tatum is a player he would like to model his game after.
Ward said he admired Tatum and the Steelers’ Troy Polamalu and tried to model his game after theirs.
“If I had to pick two safeties I would study they would be Jack Tatum and Troy Polamalu.”
Tatum helped the Buckeyes win the 1968 national title and went on to have a stellar career with the Raiders. He was known as a hard hitting, ball-hawking player.
“Being from the Bay Area, I followed Jack Tatum with the Raiders,” Ward said. “My dad said he modeled his play after him, as well.”
Ward’s father, Terrell Ward, played at San Diego State and was a seventh-round draft choice of the Eagles.
The Browns have tried to find the game-changing safety that has been preeminent in their division like Polamalu and the Ravens’ Ed Reed.
“I’m hoping I can be the Browns answer there, but I have a long way to go,” Ward said. “I’m just hoping that I can end up being their answer.”
There is no question the Browns have made a concerted effort to upgrade their secondary. Using their first two picks to land Joe Haden and Ward, the Browns are expecting both players to step in immediately and be productive.
“Obviously, we think we’ve really helped our secondary in the off-season,” Tom Heckert said.
In addition, to the top two draft picks, they acquired Sheldon Brown in a trade.
Heckert said there was no doubt they liked Ward’s hard-hitting ability.
“There’s no question about him,” Heckert said. “His ability in lighting people up and that was intriguing to us.
“We think he’s a really, really good football player,” he said. “He’s a super tough kid. We think he can cover and adds a lot to his defense.”
Ward said he puts everything he has into hitting people.
“I am pretty good at exploding on the ball carrier when I hit him,” Ward said. “I use all my strength and energy every time I hit someone.”
Ward missed five games after suffering a high ankle sprain in the season opener against Boise State. He still ended up fifth on the team in tackles with 68, despite missing nearly half the season. He had 10 tackles against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.
Heckert said they liked Taylor Mays and Nate Allen, but after Allen was selected just before their turn by the Eagles, they selected Ward.
Heckert said he didn’t know why Ward wasn’t rated as high as some of the other safeties.
“It might be the missed time because he only played in six games or so.”
Ward said his injuries are behind him and he’s ready to go from day one.
“I’m 100 percent and going to be ready for this first minicamp coming up.”
Heckert said the Browns had their eye on Ward since the end of round one.
“We think Taylor is a good football player, but we spent a lot of time with T.J. and felt very comfortable with him,” Heckert said. “He’s had a little history of injuries, but we brought him in and our doctors felt comfortable with him.”
Jim Brown introduced the Browns selection as they took the safety from Oregon. The 5-11, 211 hard hitting safety has the reputation of being not only a hard hitter, but a secure tackler.
“Just having a Hall of Famer like Jim Brown say my name was great.”
Heckert said he expects both Haden and Ward to be in the running to start this season.
“We hope these guys come in here and start,” he said. “We want football players who are tough and smart and can contribute.”
Heckert said Ward is very versatile.
“In the passing game his ball skills are fine,” he said. “They did use him in the box quite a bit.”
“This year’s draft of safeties was a pretty talented group,” Ward said. “I can play both positions and corners. I think I am pretty diverse and can play a lot of different ways.”
Ward was a walk on at Oregon in 2005 and said there was no secret to his rise to being the 38th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
“It was just a lot of hard work and focus on what needed to be done.”