BEREA — T.J. Ward sealed the victory against the Bills last week with a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown — his first score in the NFL.
First-year coordinator Ray Horton didn’t need that play to be impressed with the strong safety he inherited.
“I’ve been very pleased and very happy to get to know T.J. on a personal level,” Horton said Thursday. “I scouted him when he came out of Oregon and watched him as he played but had no idea what kind of character he had. He’s a very smart, instinctive young man. You don’t know that unless you coach the player.
“He’s allowed me to do some things on the field with bringing him, disguising. He’s done everything I had hoped for and beyond. I’ve been very pleased with his production and really his leadership in the classroom and on the field.”
Ward, who’s in the final year of his four-year rookie deal, is fifth on the team with 31 tackles, including 25 solos. He leads the team with two interceptions and has three passes defensed.
“It is a reflection on him, understanding film study, reading the quarterback and it’s a reflection on a great week of preparation for T.J,” Horton said of the pick-six. “And hopefully it shows he is growing in the league to understand he can be a complete player.”
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner was asked several questions about quarterback Brandon Weeden. Here are the highlights:
• On getting rid of the ball quicker.
“It’s not physical, it has to do obviously with decision-making and giving him things where he has the option to get the ball out quick and emphasizing that,” Turner said. “It’s more about understanding the plays and then the plays that come up. We do need to get the ball out.”
• On how quickly the ball should be thrown.
“You watch the quarterback’s feet,” Turner said. “When he sets his feet and steps up in the pocket, you want the ball to be out of there. It doesn’t always work that way, but generally if you do, if he has options to get the ball to, you’d like to get it out of his hand.
“Brandon made two big plays the other day by taking a little extra time and holding the ball and getting the ball thrown. You’ve just got to go play.”
• On the first two incompletions against the Bills after Weeden came off the bench, which were booed heavily.
“A lot was made of the first two plays that he was in there, one was a screen where he had to throw the ball away and the other one was completely covered and there really wasn’t much he could have done, so he made good decisions on both those plays,” Turner said.
• On Weeden’s improvement as the game progressed.
“The thing that was important to me is when Brandon got comfortable playing again, he made all the key plays down the stretch,” Turner said.
Outside linebackers Jabaal Sheard (knee) and Quentin Groves (ankle) were limited for the second straight day. They would provide a big boost if they’re able to return Sunday against the Lions.
“Jabaal was playing very well for us,” Horton said. “He’s a very smart player and he allows us to do things. The thing I have been saying all season is depth is critical for our team and he’s one of our better players. Getting him back and getting Quentin Groves back enables our special teams and defense to play better.”
Horton said it’s up to coach Rob Chudzinski if Sheard would return to his starting role, sending rookie Barkevious Mingo back to a reserve role. Mingo failed to keep contain on C.J. Spiller’s 54-yard touchdown run in the win over the Bills.
“He’s a young player and we’re going to grow with him and get better,” Horton said. “He’s going to be a dynamic player for us, but he’s also got that learning curve for us. Every game is a different opponent, different schemes and mistakes happen in a game.”
• Fullback Chris Ogbonnaya (concussion) was a full participant after being limited in his return Wednesday.
• For the Lions, receiver Calvin Johnson (knee), cornerback Chris Houston (hamstring) and safety Louis Delmas (knee) were limited.
Reporters who watched part of practice wrote Johnson was extremely limited, working in position drills but not running routes downfield or working with the first-team offense during installations. Johnson told them he was “feeling better” but didn’t provide insight into his availability for Sunday.
Coach Jim Schwartz reiterated the decision will likely be made Sunday morning.
Receiver Josh Gordon has gotten all the attention, but second-year right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has also been mentioned in trade rumors. CBS’ Jason La Canfora reported the Browns tried to trade for tackle Eugene Monroe before the Jaguars sent him to the Ravens, because they saw him as the long-term answer at right tackle.
Schwartz was a second-round pick in 2012 and played every snap as a rookie, but the new regime doesn’t value him as much as the previous front office did. Schwartz said he was unaware of the Monroe report.
“I don’t really think about that stuff,” he said.
He said he doesn’t feel the need to prove himself to his new bosses.
“No. I’m not going to play any harder,” he said. “I already play as hard as I can.”
Horton calls the plays, but he doesn’t talk to his players on gamedays.
“I leave them alone,” he said. “I never wanted my coach talking to me so I don’t talk to the players.”
Why didn’t he want his coaches talking to him?
“I knew when I made a mistake and I knew what the mistake was and how the mistake was made and how to correct it, so they didn’t need to,” Horton said. “I want my players to understand what’s going on on the field and how to fix it.
“If they have a question, I am there. But I don’t need to bother them. I bother them during the week, I challenge them in the classroom to be a better player mentally.”
Quarterback Brian Hoyer watched the walkthrough on crutches. He’s yet to have surgery on the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Hoyer is still on the active roster, as the Browns decide what to do about adding a third quarterback. They could sign one to the active roster or the practice squad.
“Our personnel department has been working hard on that,” Chudzinski said. “We’ll go through and we’ll continue to look at them.”
He feels comfortable with only two quarterbacks for now, because he only keeps two active on gameday.
• Horton ended his news conference by expressing his sadness over the recent death of author Tom Clancy.
“The mind games he played with you as a reader …” Horton said. “I want to pass on my condolences to the world because he was a fantastic author and I loved how he would weave a tale to get you to the end. And I would always read the last page of the book first.”
Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.