By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: Browns strong safety T.J. Ward rebounded from a knee injury he suffered last season, prompting his teammates to choose him as a recipient of the 2013 Ed Block Courage Award.
Each year, all 32 NFL teams give the award to a player who exemplifies the qualities of Ed Block, the former head athletic trainer of the Baltimore Colts. Those characteristics are courage, compassion, commitment and community. Ward will be honored Tuesday during an event at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Browns (4-9) placed Ward on injured reserve Dec. 18, 2012, with a bone bruise in a knee that did not require surgery. He missed the final two games of the season after sitting out eight games in 2011 with a sprained foot.
Nose tackle Phil Taylor and guard Jason Pinkston were Ward’s main competition for the award. Last season, Taylor missed eight games after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in the offseason, and Pinkston sat out the final 10 games after a blood clot was discovered in his lung.
“I didn’t think that I was going to win it since some guys had bounced back from some very serious injuries and came and played, but yet my teammates felt that I bounced back the strongest,” Ward said Monday through the team’s media relations department. “I don’t know what they felt, but it’s just an honor for them to vote me for this award. It really could have been any of the three of us to win that honor, but I’m glad that I did.”
A second-round draft pick in 2010, Ward is in the final year of his rookie contract. In 13 games this season, he ranks second on the team with 106 tackles, including a team-high 13 tackles for loss, to go along with two interceptions and seven passes defensed.
Coincidentally, Ward was directly involved in a play Sunday that ended the season of New England Patriots two-time Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski during the third quarter of the Browns’ 27-26 loss. As Ward dived toward Gronkowski’s legs at the end of a 21-yard completion, his left shoulder collided with Gronkowski’s right knee. Gronkowski suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and damage to his medial collateral ligament, according to reports.
After the game, Ward said he hit Gronkowski low instead of high because he didn’t want to be penalized and/or fined for a blow to the head. He blamed NFL rules for creating a dilemma in which many defenders feel they must lower their target area.
Ward took flak for his hit on Twitter.
“As I read my timeline I notice a lot of hate,” he tweeted Monday. “I’m going to pray for all you negative hate wishing people out there. Have a good day.”
Feeling good again
Browns quarterback Jason Campbell said he felt better Sunday than he had in the previous five weeks, and it showed.
Campbell suffered an injury to his ribs Nov. 3 in a win over the Baltimore Ravens and a concussion Nov. 24 in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He returned to practice Thursday from the concussion and didn’t show any rust against the Patriots (10-3), completing 29-of-44 passes (66 percent) for a career-high 391 yards and three touchdowns without an interception and posting a passer rating of 116.6.
“He played great yesterday,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said Monday during a news conference. “He made good decisions, made plays, managed the offense, had no turnovers and was a real positive in that game. Guys made some plays down the field. Our playmakers made some plays. Jason’s leadership and his presence had a lot to do with that.”
Wide receiver Josh Gordon continued his hot streak Sunday, and tight end Jordan Cameron got back on track after going through a lull the previous four games.
Gordon finished with seven catches for 151 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown that gave the Browns a 19-3 lead with 1:25 left in the third quarter.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, his 774 receiving yards in the past four games broke the previous NFL record set by Detroit Lions All-Pro Calvin Johnson, who had 746 in four games this season. Gordon, who served a two-game suspension this year for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, also shattered the franchise’s single-season record for receiving yards with 1,400 in 11 games. It took Braylon Edwards all 16 games to establish the previous record of 1,289 in 2007.
Gordon, 22, now leads the NFL in receiving yards this season. Johnson, who has played 12 games this season, is second with 1,348.
“He’s playing at a high level, no question about it,” Chudzinski said. “I think that you have to put him in that conversation [among the best receivers in the league].”
Meanwhile, Cameron caught nine passes for a career-high 121 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown that gave the Browns a 26-14 lead with 2:39 left in the fourth quarter. Cameron, 25, had fewer than 50 yards receiving in each of the previous four games and hadn’t scored a touchdown since Oct. 20.
“That’s the natural cycle of how things are going to play out during the course of the season,” Chudzinski said. “When a guy shows he’s a playmaker and demonstrates that ability, people are going to account for him. They may do a better job or he may not have the numbers in the next few games or the next stretch of the season, but then it’s going to come back to him eventually, and I think you’re seeing that with him. He’s proven that he’s a consistent playmaker.”
After tight end Gary Barnidge caught a 40-yard touchdown pass, the longest of his career, Sunday with 10:15 left in the third quarter, Chudzinski elected to go for two points instead of an extra-point kick. Running back Chris Ogbonnaya was stuffed on a run up the middle, and the Browns led 12-0. After the game, Chudzinski explained that he stuck with the two-point chart derived from “studies and analytics” when making the decision.
“The book I have is the one that says go for two [points],” Chudzinski further explained Monday. “Hindsight is always 20-20, and you always wish maybe the outcome would’ve came out of different if something else happened. But at the end of the day, you try to play the percentages and go forward with it. Certainly knowing that New England can score and how they can score played a part in it.”
Chudzinski canceled the players’ meetings with coaches Monday, but he said the players worked out and watched film among themselves at the team’s facility. He said he canceled the meetings because he wanted the players to “recharge” and be ready when practice resumes Wednesday in preparation for the Chicago Bears. … Why did the Browns choose Caleb Hanie over Alex Tanney as Campbell’s backup Sunday? “We just felt like where [Hanie] was at, he would be better in that position if he had to go into that game and be able to operate and do what we needed him to do in that particular game,” Chudzinski said. … Chudzinski didn’t provide any new information about the status of left guard John Greco (sprained knee) and running back Willis McGahee (concussion).
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com.