Cleveland Browns: Steve Wilks will be beneficial to Denzel Ward’s career
Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward had a stellar rookie season, but having defensive coordinator Steve Wilks on the staff will pay huge dividends for his career.
Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward was slightly overshadowed this season by fellow 2018 NFL Draft top-five selection Baker Mayfield. Ward had one of the best seasons for a defensive back in 2018 and was named to the Pro Bowl, but it was Mayfield who received most of the attention from those that follow the league.
It was a surprise to many when the Browns selected Ward with the fourth overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft over Bradley Chubb. But Ward was able to prove the doubters wrong. In 13 games, Ward made 53 total tackles, five tackles for loss, one forced fumble, three interceptions, and 11 passes defended.
However, one part of Ward’s story during his rookie season was the injuries that he suffered. The 21-year-old missed three games after suffering two separate concussions. He also left a preseason game early after suffering back spasms following a tackle.
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Ward suffering two concussions just four weeks apart was a major concern for many Browns fans. With so much focus on players leaving the game early due to head injuries, Ward’s two concussions in one month created worries about Ward’s long-term future. If he is prone to concussions, does that mean he will only have a short NFL career?
Former Browns defensive coordinator and interim head coach Gregg Williams blamed Ward’s tackling technique for the back injury he suffered in the preseason. He did the same following Ward’s first concussion – via Steve Doershuck of the Canton Repository.
"“I teased him already today,” Williams said Monday. “I said, ‘Oh, you didn’t tackle low enough again?’”Early in the year, Williams chided the former Ohio State cornerback for failing to tackle low.“At that corner position, you’ve got to be down,” Williams said. “He was up, and a guy kind of dinged him on the side of the head.”"
Ward shows a willingness to tackle despite his shorter and thinner frame. At 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, most offensive players that Ward is attempting to tackle are much bigger than him. That is the reason why Williams harped on Ward to change how he tackles.
If Ward’s technique really is the reason for the injuries that he suffered last season, then the Browns naming Steve Wilks defensive coordinator will be extremely beneficial to Ward’s sophomore season and his long-term future.
Before being named the Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator for the 2017 season, Wilks spent 16 seasons coaching defensive backs in the college ranks and the NFL. He also played defensive back during his college career and for one season in the Arena Football League. If there is anybody that knows just about everything that defensive backs need to know, then that coach is Wilks.
With his experience coaching defensive backs, Wilks will be able to see any flaws that Ward has in his game, or more specifically, his tackling. And if Wilks sees any problems, he is known to be a great teacher and should be able to fix those problems. Buffalo Bills head coach and former Panther defensive coordinator Sean McDermott credited his former defensive backs coach for being such a good teacher – via Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot.
"“Coach Wilks really embraces that growth mindset and trying to learn and grow every day so he’s a good fundamental teacher. He understands the passing game which is important when you coach as a defensive coordinator and also as a secondary coach like he has, so he’s one of the top-notch coaches in our business.”"
Wilks teaching Ward what he knows and how to survive the brutality of the NFL will help Ward improve the longevity of his career. If Wilks sees the same tackling issues that Williams saw, then there is a good chance that Ward will change his technique to avoid further injuries.
Ward is one of the cornerstones of the Browns defense and the team needs him to be healthy for 2019 and beyond. Having Wilks coach the former Ohio State product will be exactly what Ward needed for him to develop into an even better player and protect himself from potential injuries.