CLEVELAND -- When Tracy Howard joined the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent in rookie minicamp, he did so as a cornerback, but he showed something that led the coaching staff to believe the former University of Miami defensive back was a versatile athlete.
Because of “the fluidity in his hips,” Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton believes that Howard will prove to be a competent replacement at safety against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
“Tracy, I really appreciated his skills at the University of Miami,” Horton said. “He played mostly right corner for them down there, and looking at him coming out, I thought he would be more of a free safety than a corner in the NFL. We have practiced him at free safety, at corner and also, the nickel position. Just his athletic ability, his smarts, and his confidence -- he is a very confident young man – he went in last week and held his own, and maybe, it is a little different when you are not expecting to start.
“Maybe you just do your normal preparation and all the sudden, ‘Oh I go in,’ whereas this week, he has known the whole week what he is going to do. I don’t think the action, the game, the play, the opponent, the city will be too much for him. I like his confidence, and I’m excited to watch him play because I have seen him play since he was at Miami, and I’m excited that we have the kid. I think the kid has the ability to play in this league, and I’m glad he has the opportunity. I am excited to see what he does.”
According to Howard, the transition was not as difficult as some would assume, despite the bulk of his experience coming at cornerback instead of safety.
“It wasn’t that tough for me because I always pride myself on being a smart player,” Howard said. “I kind of like safety better than corner to be honest. I get to be more involved. I get to be more involved with the defense and things like that. That was the biggest thing.
“It is going to be the same. I don’t make it too big. I just go out there and play football. There is really no pressure. There is really nothing to it. It is just football at the end of the day.”
Part of the transition Howard had to go through when switching to safety was the added emphasis on communication, particularly with fellow safety Ibraheim Campbell. And communication will be key against the Bengals, who boast a multitude of offensive weapons, namely wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert.
“Throughout preseason, we all just built a bond,” Howard said. “Anybody back there, we are going to be comfortable with. In the secondary, we are a brotherhood. At the end of the day, whoever is in there, you have to communicate with him and be comfortable. We have a lot of growing to do, and once we get rolling, we will be alright.”