Bucs RB Derrick Ward practiced with his teammates on Tuesday. Ward missed Monday’s OTA, and held his first interview since early in the 2009 season. Ward said he was frustrated with the Bucs losing games but was not angry with the team or his role as a backup behind Cadillac Williams.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Derrick Ward was back at practice with his teammates on Tuesday. Ward missed the offseason practice on Monday, but head coach Raheem Morris said that Ward would be attending the voluntary practices this offseason. Last year Ward ran for 409 yards on 114 carries with one touchdown and averaged 3.6 yards per carry. He also caught 20 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Ward was asked if he was disappointed that he was not the feature back last season.
“I’m a ball player so I want to be on the field. I want to get the carries, and be able to contribute and help this team win,” said Ward. “I was a little disappointed last year that I wasn’t able to do that, but I have to take a look back and again where we were from Week 1 to Week 17 and I saw us make strides throughout the whole year. Like I said, this year is new and hopefully I’ll be able to contribute more and get on a winning track.”
The 5-foot-11, 228-pound Ward was the top free agent running back in 2009. Ward was coming off a season where he ran for 1,025 yards (5.6 average) and two touchdowns with the New York Giants. He signed a four-year $17 million dollar contract with Tampa Bay, and was expected to be a leading contributor for the Buccaneers’ offense. Ward was asked if the lack of involvement in the offense hurt his mindset.
“My mindset wasn’t down or anything, I was just taken aback by the way we were losing,” said Ward. “I’m not used to losing, especially the first seven games. I came from New York and we were winners every year, so I had to take a step back and look at my surroundings and take a look at myself and re-evaluate myself. This year I’m coming back stronger. My work ethic is to a T, and I’m ready to go.”
After the signing, Ward was projected to be a primary back that would split carries with veteran holdover Earnest Graham. Both players had languished at the back end of NFL rosters early in their careers before forcing their way into the lineup. Ward and Graham were beat out by running back Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams early in the season, and Graham was moved to fullback due to an injury to B.J. Askew. Williams lead Tampa Bay in rushing in 2009 as the Bucs primary back. Williams totaled 823 yards with four touchdowns and averaged 3.9 yards per carry on 211 carries. Ward was asked if the team apologized to him or addressed the lack of carries in 2009.
“No it was nothing like that. It was a building process last year, and things didn’t work out how we planned them to be,” said Ward. “This is a whole brand new year. We’re 0-0 and we’re in first place. We’re just going to come out here and work our hardest, and hopefully come up with a great season.”
As Williams emerged in training camp and the preseason, the Bucs decided to split the playing time of the three backs into the number of possessions that they would be the feature back on the field. In theory one back would get two possessions, the next back would get two possessions, and the third back would get one possession. The third back would also come in for special situations like short-yardage and goal line because they were supposed to be the freshest back. It didn’t take long for the plan to be dashed in favor of Williams being the feature back.
“We have to look at it like this, we planned on doing the two-two-one thing but it didn’t work out that way and we had to adjust,” Ward said. “The way that we adjusted some times it worked and sometimes it didn’t. We’re all in this together. We all lost together, and when we did win we all won together. Last year was last year. I’m just focused on being a better teammate, being a better player on the field, and churning out some victories this season.”
Ward said he has been working out and is 100 percent healthy. He missed Monday's practice due to a delayed flight while tending to a personal matter. The 29-year old tailback said that he feels better physically than he has in many years. Some believed that Ward was unhappy with his role as a backup. Although in New York Ward split carries with running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. Early in the 2009 season, Ward stopped giving interviews with the media and did not speak publically until Tuesday. Many felt that his silence was meant to express frustration with the team for not giving him more of a featured role.
“I wasn’t blowing [the media] off. I was just disappointed with myself,” said Ward. “The way that I was playing, and it was just a very disappointing season for the team collectively. It is a new year. We got some nice young guys ready to play, and it is more energetic this year.”
Ward was asked what he was disappointed about with regards to himself.
“Being more of a team leader, I kind of took a step back and looked at it from an outside perspective,” said Ward. “I need to be more vocal in the locker room. I need to be more vocal on the field. Hopefully the guys will see how hard I work and follow my lead.”
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