BEREA — There's a lot from a team's voluntary offseason team activities you can't put too much stock in long-term. The players, the ones who are there at least, are running around in just jerseys and helmets in non-contact drills.
However, the OTAs are not without their benefits. There are opportunities to get a glimpse into potentially new personnel looks, especially with the Browns under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Such as Wednesday, when one looked out on the field and saw cornerback Denzel Ward lining up … on the inside?
"Oh, yeah," Ward said afterward. "So you can definitely expect me inside, outside, wherever. So just trying to be anywhere I can to make plays and help this team out."
Why is Ward playing on the inside a big deal? A year ago, he played exactly three of his 799 defensive snaps in the slot, per Pro Football Focus.
It's not that Ward hasn't played inside before. He played 124 combined snaps in the slot in his first two seasons in the league while running defensive schemes coordinated by Gregg Williams and Steve Wilks.
Under Joe Woods, who was in that position the last three seasons, Ward was almost exclusively on the outside. He played 24 total slot corner snaps in those three seasons.
"I just want to be out there on the field and best place to make a play," Ward said. "That's what I'm trying. My focus is lock my man down and out there to make plays. So wherever I'm at, I'm cool."
The inside cornerback spot has been a hot-button topic this offseason. Greg Newsome II, who handled the spot for the vast majority of last season, was very public in his displeasure with the role during the winter.
Newsome, though, clarified in mid-April those complaints as being more based in scheme usage than specifically playing inside.
Coach Schwartz is pushing each individual defender to excel in their role 🚀 pic.twitter.com/EDZY8caTe7
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) May 31, 2023
"The clear issue was just not me playing in a slot," Newsome said on April 18. "Against Cincinnati, guarding a guy like Tyler Boyd, guarding guys like that, I have no problem with doing that. I just feel like in a certain cases I was more of a linebacker than a cornerback."
The Browns return three solid starting-caliber cornerbacks in Ward, Newsome and 2022 third-round pick Martin Emerson Jr. Those three give Schwartz options in terms of how to deploy them from play to play and game to game.
Schwartz's scheme starts with using multiple defensive linemen to attack and wreak havoc up front. On the back end, though, the coverage is also about multiplicity and versatility, especially when it comes to the third cornerback spot.
"It's probably not going to be rotating guys within a game," Schwartz said. "What you might see, depending on the matchup, you might see different players playing nickel in different games and a bigger guy that plays more physical, we might have one guy in there. A small, shifty quick guy, we might have somebody else in there. The way we play our coverage, there's a lot of carryover between corner and nickel. It's not its own specific position."
That's not just with the cornerbacks, though. Schwartz extends that philosophy to the safeties.
One of the attractions the Browns had to Juan Thornhill when they pursued and ultimately signed him in free agency was his versatility. Meanwhile, they also signed Rodney McLeod, one of Schwartz's former safeties with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Those two, along with holdover Grant Delpit, allow Schwartz creativity when he rolls out three-safety looks.
"How that happens, I don't know whether it's Grant Delpit going down low and playing like a dime position or Grant staying deep and a guy like Rodney going down," Schwartz said. "We value flexibility in those players. We value multi-dimensional skills. Right now they're all playing all the positions.
"But, again, by the end of training camp, we'll sort of get a feel for where we are and what our best matchups are and we'll go with that.
Chris Easterling can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/browns. Follow him on Twitter at @ceasterlingABJ.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Denzel Ward feel Jim Schwartz's scheme features Browns' DB versatility