Optimism abounds across the NFL at the onset of training camp, and the Browns are no different.
For one of Cleveland's longtime playmakers, Denzel Ward, it's the belief that the 2023 iteration of the club is the most talented he's been a part of yet.
"I believe so," Ward told reporters Saturday when asked if this was Cleveland's most talented roster during his tenure, per the team transcript. "I definitely believe so since the time that I came in. But as I said before, you can have a lot of talent, but you just got to bring it together and bring all those pieces together. So that's what we're doing and focusing on making it happen."
Ward, a two-time Pro Bowler, has five previous seasons with the Browns to look back on and compare. Cleveland never finished better than third in the AFC North in any of them, although that includes an 11-5 campaign in 2020 that saw Ward and Co. bring the fans their first postseason victory since 1994.
That was coach Kevin Stefanski's inaugural campaign in charge. Heading into Year 4 of the Stefanski era, the roster certainly has an argument for rivaling the one that helped snap so many years of Cleveland heartbreak -- even if Ward's proclamation was typical training camp posturing.
Three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson will be available for the entire season after serving an 11-game suspension at the beginning of last year for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. And his pass-catching weapons have the makings of a dynamic bunch with the additions of Elijah Moore and 2023 third-rounder Cedric Tillman alongside Amari Cooper and Donovan Peoples-Jones, as well as David Njoku at tight end.
Plus, running back Nick Chubb is in the middle of his prime with four consecutive Pro Bowls to match his four straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
The defense also underwent a sizeable facelift during free agency. Browns general manager Andrew Berry inked ex-Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill, a defender with a Super Bowl pedigree, to a three-year deal, and he brought defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson in on a four-year pact. Za’Darius Smith, a sack aficionado with 36 in his last three fully healthy seasons, joined Tomlinson from Minnesota a couple months after that by way of a trade.
Browns defenders, new and old, will look to jell under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, whose aggressive nature and proclivity for one-on-one matchups excites Ward.
"I would definitely say that man-to-man is a strength of ours," the CB said. "We got a lot of talent in the room and a lot of guys that could do a lot of things, but I'll definitely say man-to-man is one of our pluses."
Preseason will provide the initial test for all these new pieces that make up a talented Cleveland roster.
The first one that counts, however, will take place on Sept. 10 against a divisional foe, the Bengals. It comes as no surprise Ward has full confidence that he and his secondary mates will prove up to the task against Cincy's stellar wideouts.
"We know the guys over there, we're familiar with them and they're familiar with us," he said. "We know it's going to be a great battle, but we're here to work and get ready for that game, get ready for that matchup. Come that time, I think we'll be ready."