Embattled Bucs RB Derrick Ward excused his sub-par preseason play on Wednesday, saying that he should be judged for what he does in the regular season, not in exhibition games. Head coach Raheem Morris expressed confidence in Ward, but hinted that he better play better against Jacksonville if he wants to remain a Buc.
Bucs running back Derrick Ward has come under fire for his sub-par play this preseason. The Tampa Bay media, national media, local sports talk radio and the PewterReport.com message boards have been chattering over Ward's lack of production.
In two preseason games, Ward has carried the ball 17 times for 31 yards for a disappointing 1.8 avg. while the team’s other three halfbacks – Cadillac Williams, Kareem Huggins and Carlos Brown – are averaging at least 4.7 yards per carry. Ward fumbled twice in the preseason opener at Miami, with one of them resulting in a turnover. Prior to the second preseason game, Ward guaranteed a much better effort, but rushed for only 11 yards on five carries before suffering a mild concussion.
“It’s the preseason you cannot really judge somebody off a preseason game,” Ward said. “You judge them off of their season. Granted I could do a couple of things better then what I did the first game as far as holding onto the ball. The second game I got five carries so it’s a gradual process through preseason. Once you get to the season that is when you have to show yourself.”
Ward has been under mounting criticism that began a year ago when he underwhelmed as a high-priced free agent from the New York Giants, signing a four-year, $17 million contract. But Ward couldn’t beat out Williams, who was coming off a torn patellar tendon injury, for the starting job, and rushed for just 400 yards and one touchdown, in addition to catching two touchdown passes. The Bucs thought they were getting a 1,000-yard back, but Ward has been anything but the player he was with the Giants since moving to Tampa.
“What I do with the Giants is what I do with them,” Ward said. “It’s all about what you do with your new team and last year was a learning experience for all of us, especially for me. This year we came in as group for the whole year. We are able to have everything together for the whole year. We are on key, on task with each other it shows in practice. Preseason is preseason I have been in the league for seven years now and you cannot really compare preseason to the regular season, so I am just really excited to finish off this preseason and get onto the season.”
But Ward’s lackluster preseason could have him sliding down the depth chart behind Huggins, who has rushed for 99 yards on 16 carries (6.2 avg.) this preseason. Although Bucs head coach Raheem Morris was still voicing confidence in his veteran running back, he cryptically suggested that Ward had better strut his stuff on Saturday night against Jacksonville.
“I think we’re talking about the guy that is going to go out there and really complement Cadillac,” Morris said. “I think it’s going to pick up this week. Obviously, Huggy has been out there and looked impressive over the last couple of weeks. Derrick knows what he needs to do and if wants to go out there and get it done. He better do it fast. He’s a pro. We still have a lot of belief in him. He’s had success in this league and he’s been a 1,000-yard back in this league before. That’s something Huggins can’t say he’s done and not many backs on this team can say they’ve done. You have to go out there and let those guys compete and let them battle.”
It sounds like Ward is not a lock to make the roster and that the Jacksonville contest could make or break his career in Tampa Bay.
“Who knows? That’s not my call,” Derrick said. “That’s the head coach’s and offensive coordinator’s and running back coach’s call. My job is to come out here, help the team out and be prepared for anything.
“I am very confident, I have not been this happy since 2008. I feel good about myself, good about my abilities and I am not dealing with any injuries. I am fresh, healthy and ready to go.”
Ward has seemed sluggish when in the game and not showing much speed or power on his runs – many of which have ended at or behind the line of scrimmage. Yet he dismissed any claims that he is out of shape when asked about that on Wednesday.
“No, I am good,” Ward said. “I am in great shape. I am ready to go.”
Ward can’t explain why he isn’t having the same level of success running the ball that Tampa Bay’s other backs have enjoyed during the first two preseason games. He also doesn’t know how the carries will play out between he, Williams and Huggins during the regular season.
“Maybe it will be one guy or two guys or all of us,” Ward said. “Who knows? But we have to come out here and work hard and give the team the best opportunity to win each and every Sunday.”
With Ward’s roster spot not yet secure, Morris wasn’t willing to discuss how many carries his beleaguered running back would get or what role he would play on the team until after the Jacksonville game.
“In ‘09 we weren’t a very good football team. We weren’t a very good organized football team as far as our running game. We all struggled,” said Morris. “He was a guy that was a part of it. He went out there and he probably didn’t get the holes that he wanted. Whatever the reasons were – nobody cares. It is your job to go out there and get it done. That is the same thing I’d tell Sabby [Piscitelli]. He feels bad about not being a starter. He feels bad because he feels like he was unjustly done, and nobody really cares. You got to out there and get it done and show us what you got. You only got one chance to do this thing, myself included.”
Ward is not surprised that he is in the hot seat, saying that it comes with the territory of playing pro football.
“That is the NFL,” Ward said. “Everybody is up except for Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. It’s a year-in, year-out thing. You have just got to be prepared to go in there and if it’s your turn then it’s your turn. I remember back in 2007, when I was a fourth-string running back and became the first-string running back after one injury. It depends on what you can do and what you can accomplish on the field, it starts in practice and carries over onto the field.”
For Ward’s sake, he better accomplish more against Jacksonville than he did against Miami and Kansas City if he wants to remain a Buccaneer.
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