BEREA — Strong safety T.J. Ward can add an impressive line to his free-agent resume with an inaugural trip to the Pro Bowl. He hopes to hear his name called when the selections are announced Friday night and thinks he deserves it.
“I definitely hope to,” he said Tuesday. “I think I had a Pro Bowl season. I know I had a Pro Bowl season. But it’s up to you guys, the fans and the other players. You get the other players’ and coaches’ respect, then that helps.”
Ward has put together a solid season with 121 tackles (second on the team), 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, a touchdown and nine passes defensed. After finishing the last two seasons on injured reserve, he’s poised to play all 16 games for the first time since his rookie year in 2010. He’s started all 53 games he’s played in his career.
Ward’s rookie contract is set to expire in March, so the finale Sunday in Pittsburgh could be his last game with the team that drafted him in the second round, No. 38 overall.
“I have no idea. Really, honestly, I really haven’t even been focused on that part of it,” he said. “I’ve thought about it, but not really in depth. So we’ll see.”
Ward has won only 18 games in nearly four seasons, yet said he wants to return to the Browns.
“I definitely want to be back,” he said. “I like my team. I love my teammates. I love being in this city. I love the organization. We haven’t had many wins, but I think we’re building something here, and I think it’s being built the right way.
“Sometimes things don’t happen right away. It takes a little bit of time, but good things are worth the wait in a lot of cases.
We’re starting to build something, and if I have the opportunity, I’d love to finish it.”
Ward and center Alex Mack are the most important players scheduled to become free agents.
“Those guys have played at a high level,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “I love those guys, but we’re focused on Pittsburgh right now and in the season. All of those things, we’ll talk about when the season is over.”
Ward believes he’s established himself as one of the best at his position in the league.
“It’s not an individual game by any means, but personally I do feel I’ve had a really good season, and I pride myself because I’ve put a lot of work in since Day 1 and it is satisfying when your hard work pays off,” he said. “We haven’t had the team wins and victories, but those will come. Those will definitely come if everyone starts doing those types of things and finishing things off, you’ll start seeing a lot more wins.”
Cornerback Joe Haden (hip), left guard Jason Pinkston (concussion), tight end Jordan Cameron (concussion), right guard Shawn Lauvao (contusion), nose tackle Phil Taylor (concussion), outside linebacker Paul Kruger (illness), defensive end John Hughes (knee) and tight end Andre Smith (calf) didn’t practice.
The Browns didn’t have to release an official injury report, so there was no clarity on Lauvao’s reason for missing practice.
* Left guard John Greco returned in a limited role. He missed the last two games with a knee sprain, but hopes to start against the Steelers.
“I feel good. I’ll mix in a little bit today, see how it feels,” he said. “But saw great progress, right where I wanted to be and hopefully things work out this week.”
Greco said it’s important to return for the finale if he can.
“There’s no reason for me to sit out if I’m healthy,” he said. “I want to help the team win, I don’t care what our record is.”
Chudzinski wouldn’t discuss the situation of receiver Davone Bess, who was placed on the non-football illness list Saturday for personal reasons. Chudzinski was asked if he thinks Bess will play again for the Browns.
“I’m not going to get into any of the situation or any speculation regarding anything,” he said.
* The Browns have an open roster spot after the move with Bess and will likely fill it with a defensive lineman. End Desmond Bryant (irregular heartbeat) is out for the year, and Taylor and Hughes are hurting.
* Chudzinski said the plan was to rotate in receiver Brian Tyms for Greg Little versus the Jets before Little dropped a pass in the end zone.