BEREA — Rookie Denzel Ward shook off the criticism like a cornerback must move on from a bad play.
Ward, the No. 4 pick, said he wasn’t bothered by coordinator Gregg Williams’ public attack of his tackling technique. Ward suffered back spasms after attempting to bring down Eagles tight end Zach Ertz during the preseason and Williams told reporters the way he tackled was “stupid.”
“That didn’t really faze me,” Ward said. “That’s who he is, that’s the type of person he is. And growing up my parents always told me people aren’t going to always talk nice to you or be your friend, so I don’t really let that stuff faze me.”
Ward said he’s healthy, “ready to go” for the opener Sunday against the Steelers and excited about starting his first NFL game. He went to Nordonia High School and Ohio State and expects to have 50 family and friends in the stands.
He said Williams didn’t apologize after ripping him to reporters.
“Nah. He said the same thing he said to the media,” Ward said.
Williams would’ve preferred if he tried to tackle Ertz by the legs.
“The game happens so fast, so you can’t really put your body in the ideal position at all times,” Ward said. “I may critique a couple things. But, I mean, I feel the way I tackle is good.”
Despite being only 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, Ward was known at Ohio State for his physical style of play.
“I enjoy tackling, I like that being a part of my game and my physicality,” he said.
Ward’s coverage skills got him drafted in the top five and will be immediately put to the test. He wouldn’t say if he’ll follow All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown for every snap but will certainly draw the assignment throughout the game.
“A great player, a great receiver,” Ward said. “He is going to push you, and he is going to work every play. You just have to know where he is at all times on the field.”
The continued absence of Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell in a contract dispute drew the ire of teammates, who attacked him in the media.
“Honestly it’s a little selfish,” center Maurkice Pouncey said. “I’m kind of (ticked) right now. It sucks that he’s not here.”
Browns coach Hue Jackson wants his team to ignore the noise.
“They can beat each other up for all we care. It does not matter,” Jackson said. “Whatever comes out of Pittsburgh is in Pittsburgh. We know what the focus is for us. It is not about Le’Veon not being there or what their team feels or thinks. It is about what we do on Sunday.
“To me, we just have to go play. We are not going to worry about them in that way.”
Receiver Jarvis Landry had a simple solution to Pittsburgh’s troubles.
“Just pay the man,” he said.
COUNTING ON JOSH
Coordinator Todd Haley’s game plan will feature a large dose of receiver Josh Gordon.
“I hope he is involved a lot,” Haley said. “He obviously is a big-time talent. As I told him, ‘We have been waiting on you.’ It is time.
“He worked very hard when he was not here. He is very clear from a mental standpoint. He has worked hard to get himself physically ready to go. He definitely can help us.”
Gordon missed the first three weeks of training camp to focus on his sobriety and mental health, so Jackson said he won’t start against the Steelers and his snap count will be monitored. Haley said the Browns need Gordon to come up big anyway.
“This is one of those five-star matchups,” Haley said. “Our best players have to play better than their best players for us to have a chance to come out on top, and he is one of our best players. I would expect him to be involved.”
The starting left tackle and left guard will be announced Friday and Jackson said he’s made the decision.
“I knew a couple of days ago,” he said. “It is not a tryout. I just wanted to keep seeing it.”
Undrafted rookie Desmond Harrison is a strong contender to start at tackle, with veteran and captain Joel Bitonio moving back to guard after spending the preseason at tackle. Harrison (6-6, 295 pounds) missed the start of camp with a toe injury but has impressed with his athleticism.
“He has ability,” Haley said. “He has a chance to play in this league, but he has got to show us that he can be dependable on a down-in and down-out basis and week-in, week-out basis.”
The Browns bolstered their pass rush, claiming defensive end Anthony Zettel off waivers from the Lions.
Zettel (6-4, 275) started all 16 games last season and was second on Detroit with 6.5 sacks. He was a sixth-round pick out of Penn State in 2016, and in two years has played in 26 games with 56 tackles, 7.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
He joins Chris Smith, rookie Chad Thomas and Ifeadi Odenigbo as backup ends behind starters Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah.
Offensive lineman Aaron Neary was waived to make room, likely leaving rookie No. 33 pick Austin Corbett as the backup center.
Cornerback E.J. Gaines practiced for the first time since spraining his knee Aug. 19. He was limited and Jackson said he likely won’t play Sunday.
** Linebacker James Burgess (concussion) remained sidelined.
** Jackson said he was aware of the forecast for Sunday that calls for rain and said the offense is “weather-proof.”