DBN Mailbag: T.J. Ward's Ranking, Third-Down RB, Practice Squad Rules [Part 1]

T.J. Ward might qualify as an above average safety, but he can't keep giving up touchdowns.

Welcome to the first edition of the Dawgs By Nature Mailbag (the title of the feature is subject to change, based on suggestions). Mailbags seem to be a common thing for sports writers, but this will be the first time in the seven years of the site's existence that I will be doing one.

The members of this community often have some nice debates in the comments section of articles I post, but I haven't had the time to participate in as many of those discussions as I would like. My hope is that the mailbag feature will allow you to pick my brain on some specific questions.

Today's mailbag ended up being a super-sized edition, so I'm going to break it up into two parts (part two can be found here). The topics in part one of today's mailbag include how T.J. Ward ranks as a safety, a few personal questions, who the Browns' third-down running back will be, and practice squad regulations.

Drew: "When healthy, do you see T.J Ward as an above average safety? I like his hitting, but his coverage is suspect."

Chris: "It depends on your definition of 'above average.' I thought the likes of Abram Elam and Mike Adams were average safeties, so in that regard, I would rate T.J. Ward as an above average safety. For me to consider a safety above average, they need to excel at either defending the pass or the run. In Ward's case, he excels against the run, ranking as one of the top ten safeties in the league according to Pro Football Focus. As you stated, his coverage is still suspect -- if he starts making plays on the football, he can change that within a matter of weeks. I sometimes wonder if being billed as a hard hitting safety plays into Ward's mindset when he drops back into coverage. We saw what he could do against Jordan Shipley, but a safety can't be looking for the big hit every play."

Alex: "What's your favorite flavor of Ramen?"

Chris: "Thanks for making me Google something to see what you were talking about. I've seen the packaging before but never thought twice about it. I tend to like chicken, so if you're offering to send me a freebie, that's what I'll take."

Robert: "How old are you?"

Chris: "I'm probably as old as the number of times you (Brownie's Year) whined about your electricity this past week. Strike that -- on second thought, that would probably put me over the century mark, and I'm no where near that old. I don't know if people have ever noticed, but whenever I talk about the team, it is about the post-1999 Browns. That should give you some context (or, at least distance you from an absurd guess of 38 years old)."

Jason: "On third down, who will be the primary back this season, Richardson or Hardesty? I know Richardson is said to have the pedigree to catch the ball out of the backfield, but does he also have the blocking prowess?"

Chris: "When I received this question a few days ago, I was in the middle of writing my running backs preview post, which basically ends up answering this very question. I think Richardson will be the primary back on third downs this season because of how important he will be to the offense. Blocking should not be a problem for Richardson. Team president Mike Holmgren discussed Richardson's blocking ability after the team drafted him in April. He compared Richardson to Shaun Alexander but noted that while both are great runners, Alexander never wanted to block anybody.

...the difference is Trent is not just a willing blocker but a very, very good blocker, so when Pat's calling the game and we're running our offense you don't have to be thinking, ‘Okay now how do we protect him in the passing game?'

You can also see Richardson mauling the hell out of someone here (hat tip to jonnyphoenix). I think Jackson will still be viewed as a third-down running back, though, in the sense that he'll still enter the game in a handful of third-down situations. Examples would be when the team is facing a third-and-15, or when the team is ahead and hoping to give Richardson an extra breather if they are able to move the chains without him. Jackson fits in those passing situations because he can also give Weeden some time to throw, and can be optioned out as a receiver."

Matt: "What sort of regulations are there for the practice squad?"

Chris: "For those who want the full-blown verbiage, consult page 160 of the 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, which you can view on the web. Here is my summary: a team can have eight players on their practice squad. Each player on the squad receives a weekly check worth $5,700. For eligibility, here are some guidelines:

  • In most cases, a player cannot be on a practice squad for more than two seasons. To be counted toward a player's total, though, they have to be on the practice squad for at least three games during the season. For example, if Brad Smelley gets placed on the practice squad in Week 1 but is released after that, he still has two years of eligibility left. A player can be on the practice squad for a third year if his club has 53 players on the main roster during his entire third season.

Additionally, to be eligible, players have to meet one of the following requirements:

  • The player does not have an accrued season of NFL experience. An "accrued season" means that the player would have to be on the 53-man roster for six or more games during the season (or on an injured list for that same duration). This is why it's possible to call up players in December, but still be able to put them on the practice squad the following year.
  • If the player has accrued seasons but were on the active list for fewer than eight regular season games, they can be on the practice squad.

The language is still confusing, even for myself to try to explain, but I'll use this criteria for my roster projections."

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