For a SS or box safety, that usually implies more of a linebacker role in subpackages. What I saw from his days in Cleveland however indicate that he can and will be used quite extensively in coverage, especially against opposing TE's. When it came to teams like NE who liked to split their stud TE's wide, it meant that TJ Ward also had a spot on the outside.
In the slot
Here the Patriots line up in 12 personnel. Rob Gronkowski lines up in the slot, and TJ Ward sticks with him. The Browns are playing their base 3-4 defense, and the front looks very similar to the Under base that the Broncos run (the roles from the interior linemen are different). One deep safety with man coverage underneath.
It looks as if TJ guesses that Gronk will run an out at the sticks and ends up giving away a step. Gronkowski continues down the seam but is overthrown by Brady. Ward had some help over the top, but this could have gone for a 20-30 yard gain.
On the outside
Let me clarify something before we go forward. In this game, the Browns decided to use TJ Ward in coverage against Rob Gronkowski, at least most of the time. Where Gronk went, Ward followed. Here Gronk is split wide to the bottom of the screen.
Not sure what the call is, but with the off coverage, Gronk runs a short hitch. Ward sees it and reacts quickly, knocking the ball away.
In the Box
Here NE lines up in heavy personnel. They will run playaction with a post/seam concept. Edelman will cross the field on a post and Gronkowski (bottom) will run down the seam. TJ reads the play and stays with Gronk showing some nice closing speed near the end. My fear is that last year in a similar situation Duke Ihenacho would have given up the route to Gronkowski biting on the play-fake. Watch it a couple of times, Ward flips those hips on a dime.
In zone coverage
Up to this point we have seen Ward match up one on one. How does he fare playing zone? The Browns are in their dime package, but with their alignment it seems as if they are running a standard 4-3. In fact that is how Cleveland chose to defense NE, they used their secondary players as linebackers to help defense the short and intermediate crossers NE likes to run.
Ward does fine, in fact his recognition and reading skills are sharp. As soon as Brady's arm is cocked he makes his break for the running back and grabs him by the ankle as he makes the reception. Well played.
As a robber
The robber role was tailor made for a safety like Ward. In fact that is how Seattle dominated our Broncos in the Super Bowl. They used SS Kam Chancellor as a "robber" or player that can read the play and react. More often than not, Kam stayed close to the box in order to put a clamp on our crossing routes. I think this is also a component of what Jack Del Rio envisioned when he asked John Elway for an intimidating SS.
Anyway, if you don't know what a robber does, he has the freedom to "roam" and make plays. A lot of times it's as simple as diagnosing run vs. pass given that the rest of the receivers are accounted for. Here he reads pass and moves up to cover Jermichael Finley, nicely done. In fact presnap, it almost looks as if he's trying to bait Rodgers into throwing it to Finley.
Just how well did Ward do against Gronkowski? That game the Gronk had 2 receptions for 32 yards on 5 targets. One of the receptions, a 21-yarder was over D'Qwell Jackson and the very play Ward tackled and injured him. He had minimal success and was contained by Ward until his injury.
What it means for our defense
When the Broncos say you will see Ward everywhere, they aren't lying, though at least now you know the context. They will have no issues putting him one on one against a stud TE or receiving option and having him shadow that player from various spots on the field.
In our base defense, it will give you a 4th LB so to speak with Von and Irving adept against the run and Trevathan/Ward comfortable in coverage. It also gives them the flexibility of putting their very best coverage players on the field regardless of nickel/dime designations.
He can line up as a linebacker and play zone coverage, he can line up as a robber and play both run and pass. He can line up in the slot or to the outside--this was the role they thrust Duke Ihenacho into last year to mixed results. When we see a receiving threat at TE on our schedule, you can bet this will be the player to cover him.
The progress that Lamin Barrow and the other sub Mike LB'ers make this camp is inconsequential. I doubt with Ward on the field you would want to give a rookie that man to man responsibility especially when the vet has proven his mettle.
A little bit later on, I'm going to project the Broncos defensive personnel when it comes to their base and subpackages.