BEREA — T.J. Ward has never played football while wearing a cast, but he will have to Sunday when the winless Browns visit the New York Giants.
Cleveland’s starting strong safety broke his right thumb in multiple places on Sept. 27, requiring surgery and the placement of nine screws in order to repair all of the damage.
“I don’t think anything else can happen to it, so it will be OK,” Ward said Friday following practice. “I’ve practiced the last few days and (the pain) is not that bad. I hate missing games. But I’ve got a broken thumb, so I know it’s not normal.”
Ward suffered the injury in the first quarter of the Browns’ 23-16 loss in Baltimore, but played through the pain to take all 82 defensive snaps. The 5-foot-10, 200-pounder struck his right thumb on the knee of Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith while pursuing him on a reverse.
Fortunately for Ward, Cleveland is in the midst of a 10-day break between games, allowing him to keep his perfect attendance on the season by suiting up against the Giants.
“(My hand) won’t be completely casted, but I can’t grab and I don’t have a thumb, so it’s going to be kind of hard,” the third-year pro said.
“Having the surgery early helped me out. With a short week, I probably wouldn’t have been able to play, but everyone heals different — and I think it’s healing quite well right now.”
With top cornerback Joe Haden serving the final contest of his four-game NFL suspension, the Browns desperately need Ward on the field against defending Super Bowl champion New York. He leads the team with 27 tackles and is one of only six Cleveland defensive players to start the first four games.
“I think T.J. has played very well and we’re anticipating that it will continue,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said. “We feel good about how physical he is and we feel good about what he does within the structure of our defense.”
Shurmur added that Ward “looked good” during limited practice time Thursday and Friday, much like safety Ray “Bubba” Ventrone did in the days following his left thumb surgery. Ventrone had pins and a steel plate placed in his thumb three weeks ago, but only missed one game and is playing with a heavily padded cast.
“Going through that with Bubba kind of helped me as well, learning how the process went with him playing,” Ward said. “I talked to him about it. He said it’s difficult, but it’s still football.”
Somewhat surprisingly, the Oregon product said Haden’s absence did not pressure him into playing against the Giants. But Cleveland’s strong performance in Baltimore and its 0-4 record certainly did.
“I never feel pressure to play. This is something I want to do,” Ward explained. “It’s a reward to be out there, so if I’m able to be out there and help my team, that’s what I want to do.
“I don’t think we played our best football by far against the Ravens, and we were still in position to win the game at the end, so I think things are coming together. We’re going to get over that hump.”
Time, though, is quickly running out for the Browns to do so.
Only one NFL team has ever made the playoffs after losing its first four games, while the impending ownership change from Randy Lerner to Jimmy Haslam III has many people in Cleveland’s organization on edge.
Ward admits it’s not an optimum situation for the Browns to be in, but added that he knows exactly how to turn their season around.
“A win, period, would mean a lot to us right now,” Ward said. “Going to New York and getting a win against the Giants — a really good team — really doesn’t mean more than a win against anybody else. Just getting that first win would do a lot for our confidence and for our record.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org