Browns safety Ward bracing for Bengals fans
Browns rookie safety T.J. Ward never imagined his vicious
early-season hit would trigger a domino effect across the NFL.
”I kind of started it all with the fines,” Ward said,
Ward was fined $15,000 in the days following his devastating hit
on Cincinnati rookie wide receiver Jordan Shipley in the fourth
quarter of Cleveland’s Oct. 3 win. The blow, which knocked out and
concussed Shipley, became one of the helmet-to-helmet hits most
often pointed to by the league when it cracked down on such
collisions to protect players.
On Sunday, Ward hopes to speak with Shipley on Sunday before the
Browns (5-8) play the Bengals (2-11), who have dropped 10 straight
since losing in Cleveland. Ward wants Shipley to know that he isn’t
a dirty player.
”If I get the opportunity, I might shout at him for a little
bit,” Ward said. ”I might just tell him it wasn’t my intent to
hurt him or do anything like that, I was just playing the game. I
hope he understands that. If not, I don’t know, I tried.”
Bengals fans will be tougher to convince.
”I’m expecting the worst, going to their house, especially
following what happened,” he said. ”Especially from the fans. I
was getting called dirty player and all this, so I’m pretty sure
the fans aren’t going to be too happy about seeing me.”
Following the game, Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer and wide
receiver Terrell Owens both called Ward’s hit ”a cheap shot.” The
league felt it was excessive, too, slapping a hefty fine on Ward.
Two weeks later, following a nasty hit by Pittsburgh linebacker
James Harrison on Browns wide receivers Mohamed Massaquoi, the
league implemented a tougher policy on helmet contact.
There have been larger fines since the one given to Ward, who
may be fortunate he got his out of the way.
”Compared to the $50,000 and $25,000 guys are getting, I guess
it’s peanuts,” Ward said. ”But it’s still a lot of money,
regardless. A lot of money.”
With all their problems, the Bengals aren’t looking at getting
back at Ward for motivation.
”We’ve moved on,” Palmer said Wednesday. ”We want to win
because it’s a rivalry game, because it’s a home game and because
they’re kind of the team that started this whole slide. We went
into that game as a confident team and they knocked us back a step.
But our main incentive is it’s a rivalry game, the in-state
Ward led with his right shoulder when he popped Shipley, who had
just dropped a potential touchdown pass in the end zone from Palmer
when he was flattened. But Ward’s helmet also made contact with the
side of Shipley’s head, drawing a flag and more attention to pro
football’s inherent violence.
Ward says he’s learned his lesson. Ironically, as he met with
reporters, he wore a T-shirt that said, ”Big Hit” on the front, a
prize for a hard tackle he made on special teams for Oregon in 2009
against Southern Cal.
”I had quite a few in college,” he said.
Ward’s reputation as a tenacious hitter with the Ducks is the
biggest reason the Browns grabbed him in the second round of this
year’s draft. In a division featuring Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed,
the Browns wanted to add an impact safety. In Ward, they seem to
have one. He leads the Browns with 88 tackles and has two
interceptions. Ward, though, has not been pleased with his play
”These last couple weeks, I haven’t made some tackles I should
have made,” he said. ”I pride myself on that and I feel I should
make every tackle I get the opportunity to. Even though I’m leading
the team in tackles, I feel like I should have more.”
Ward has delivered some big hits, but nothing of the seismic
intensity of the one on Shipley. He said it’s not because he’s
changed his game or shying away from contact.
”I haven’t been put in that situation where I’ve had the
opportunity to take that big of a shot on anyone,” he said.
”Until that time comes again, that’ll tell if I change my
Ward knows he’ll be a target for abuse this week. He’ll be booed
and taunted by Bengals fans, who will see No. 43 as the baddest of
the Browns. They haven’t forgotten, and Ward understands there’s
nothing he can do to change their opinion of him.
”Any time you come into an opposing team’s stadium, you’re
going to be a villain,” he said. ”It’s all right. They can call
me what they want. I know what kind of player I am, my teammates
know what type of player I am. I’m not a dirty player at all.”