BEREA — Cornerback Denzel Ward has checked out the Browns schedule and is well aware of the lineup of Pro Bowl receivers he’ll be asked to cover. It starts in Week 1 with Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown and includes Cincinnati’s A.J. Green, Atlanta’s Julio Jones, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins and New Orleans’ Michael Thomas.
“It will definitely be a challenge but I’m definitely looking forward to it and I’ve got to get prepared, get in the playbook, and I’m ready to go to work,” Ward, the No. 4 pick out of Ohio State, said Friday before the first practice of rookie minicamp. “I think I’ll be ready.”
The afternoon featured a quick setback as Ward was held out of team drills during practice.
“I’m always going to be cautious with our guys if I think they have a little nick or something,” coach Hue Jackson said. “He did some good things, just watching him run around, too. We’ll see where he is tomorrow and kind of go from there.”
Jackson said he didn’t know the exact injury but said it wasn’t a hamstring.
“I think he’ll be OK,” he said. “I’m going to be very slow with any guys that have anything right now because I don’t think this is what it’s really about, it’s getting him here and learning what we do and how we do it and make sure we get him to the next practice or the practice after that, or however that works.”
The top-five selection brings scrutiny and pressure, including the expectation Ward will develop into a shutdown cornerback who can match up against the opponent’s No. 1 receiver. Is he up to the challenge?
“He’s going to have to be,” Jackson said. “He’s gotta be. You can’t run from that.
“We saw a player who was very deserving, who played cornerback, who we thought at that time was one of the best picks on our board, and we took a guy who I think’s going to be an outstanding player.”
“I feel I was definitely the dependable shutdown corner at Ohio State,” said Ward, who’s 5-foot-11, 190 pounds. “Being here in the NFL now, I’ve got to prove myself to be that.”
He said it’s not a bad thing to open his career against Brown, the six-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro who led the league with 1,533 receiving yards last year.
“No, sir, it’s the NFL. You just have to come to play,” Ward said. “There’s obviously a lot of talented players in the NFL and there’s going to be a lot of talented players that I’m going to go against and it’s all about the preparation.”
Jackson watched the defense, then the special teams, then made his way back to the offense. After giving up offensive coordinator and play-calling duties to Todd Haley, Jackson is taking a more global approach to leading the team.
It was different not hunkering down with the quarterbacks and the offense.
“Absolutely. It’s a new start for myself, being involved in all of it, seeing the defense, talking to the defensive players and the offensive players and the quarterback and all of them,” Jackson said. “It was good. I’ve got to find my way, too, but it was a good first day for me.”
Jackson said Haley has “total autonomy” and the team will use his playbook.
“He is one of the best in the business,” Jackson said. “That is why he is here. He has to do those things his way.”
A BAKER AND A KING
Quarterback Baker Mayfield was the No. 1 pick in the draft, but he knows LeBron James rules the region. He said he’s a fan and would like to meet the Cavaliers superstar.
“Yeah, obviously he’s one of the greatest athletes to ever play sports, in general,” Mayfield said. “Yeah, I’m excited to be here. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to go watch him play, but right now the focus is on football.”
Browns vice president of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith created a stir this week when he said during a speech that something “bothered” him about quarterback Josh Rosen, who went to UCLA and was drafted No. 10 by the Cardinals.
Highsmith said he saw the UCLA volleyball team at an airport and asked a coach about Rosen.
“He said, ‘Aaaaa, you should probably ask his girlfriend. She’s one of the players. She’s over there,’” Highsmith said, via The Canton Repository. “I’m like, ‘All right, Coach. That’s good enough.’
“I don’t know what all this means, but there was something about him that bothered me.”
Rosen knows all about Highsmith’s comments.
“I thought it was interesting he didn’t talk to my girlfriend,” Rosen said on “The Rich Eisen Show.” “Maybe he was scared of someone actually saying something good about me. It’s amazing that you can pull a red flag from something with literally zero information.”
LEARNING THE LAND
The draft class went to dinner Thursday and was joined by a few veterans and alumni.
“It was great, seeing all the legends and seeing how passionate they are about Cleveland,” third-round defensive end Chad Thomas said. “It’s just going to trickle down. I’ve already got that passion in me for football, so the city of Cleveland, just going to work.
“A bunch of people spoke, but Jim Brown, that was somebody who really stuck with me in my mind, just loving this city for the city and the people who love the city, no matter what the ups and downs for the team.”
“It is so hard to show your appreciation for those guys and everything that they have done,” second-round offensive lineman Austin Corbett said. “It truly just was an honor to be there.”
The trade of tight end Randall Telfer to the Chiefs for defensive end Dadi Nicolas was called off, then both players were waived by their original teams.
** The Browns signed 13 undrafted rookies who participated in minicamp — three wide receivers, three offensive linemen, two defensive linemen, three defensive backs, a running back and a punter.
Evan Berry (5-11, 202), the younger brother of Chiefs Pro Bowl safety Eric, is listed as a receiver after playing defensive back at Tennessee. He was a kick return specialist with four touchdowns on kickoffs and a 34.2-yard average, both tops in school history.
Offensive lineman Christian Dilauro (6-6, 300) attended Green High School and went to the University of Illinois.
** Linebacker Genard Avery, a fifth-round pick out of Memphis, said he will play the weakside spot.
** Linebacker Dominique Alexander (failed physical) and running back Darius Jackson were waived Thursday.