Denzel Ward has earned himself quite the reputation so far in his young career as a shutdown cornerback for the Cleveland Browns.
So what makes him so great? Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster — who sees Ward twice a year in the AFC North — had a curious response when asked.
“I think he’s good because his name is really cool,” Smith-Schuster told reporters on Wednesday. “He wears No. 21. I think he’s light-skinned, so he probably gets a lot of girls.”
And yes, JuJu added he respects his game. Full video, though I cut off the part at the end where he said Denzel doesn’t follow a lot of people on IG, but he does follow JuJu https://t.co/fXBdVh2NJz pic.twitter.com/T7KbKNkIaA
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) January 6, 2021
Smith-Schuster did then crack a smile and get slightly more serious with his answer.
“I got a lot of respect for Denzel Ward,” the Steelers pass-catcher added. “He’s a great player.”
Denzel Ward’s Status Uncertain for Playoffs
There’s a chance that Ward is not going to be on the field for the Browns playoff matchup against the Steelers, but he’s got a shot. Ward tested positive for COVID-19 last week, going on the reserve/COVID-19 last Thursday. If Ward’s quarantine went well and he did not experience any symptoms, he could play on Sunday.
#Browns Denzel Ward is positive for COVID-19 and must miss at least 10 days. He could potentially miss a playoff game
— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) December 31, 2020
That being said, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski — who will miss Sunday’s game after his own positive test — is letting things play out.
“I am not going to get into the hypotheticals,” Stefanski said. “I promise you, we are going to follow the protocols to a T and then see where it goes.”
The Browns secondary did not have a great showing against the Steelers last Sunday with Ward out. The unit gave up three plays of over 40 yards through the air and Pittsburgh’s backup quarterback Mason Rudolph threw for over 300 yards for the first time in his career.
the Browns were forced to play Robert Jackson and MJ Stewart, who had small roles previously. Jackson played all 67 defensive snaps, his previous high being six. Stewart — who had an interception — played on 94 percent of the defensive plays, a season-high.
“We do have options and you talk through all of those options and make sure you are putting a plan together that you think makes sense,” Stefanski said. “We will do that again this week. As it pertains to Robert, he stepped up in a tough spot, just like a bunch of guys have stepped up in a tough spot. That is the name of the game right now. You have to be ready to go in at a moment’s notice.”
Browns Looking to Replace DE Olivier Vernon
The Browns will be without starting defensive end Olivier Vernon for their Wild Card matchup against the Steelers. Vernon ruptured his Achilles in the Week 17 matchup and has been placed on injured reserve.
“I am hurting for my dawg right now. That is big brother,” Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi told reporters this week. “Praying for him. It is tough. It is the nature of the game. He is in high spirits. He has been a major, major contributor to what we have done this season and helped us win a lot of big games. … The next guy has to step up.”
— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) January 4, 2021
The next man up would be veteran Adrian Clayborn, who has played a rotational role with the Browns. Clayborn has 12 tackles, 3.5 sacks and one forced fumble in 15 games this season. Porter Gustin could also see an increased role for the Browns.