It’s almost a guarantee that the Buccaneers will be targeting a defensive end in the top three rounds this April. They’ll take value before need, but a top pass rusher is undoubtedly a priority and something that will likely be addressed early in the draft. Last Sunday’s conference championship games showed just how important it is to pressure the quarterback and Tampa Bay took notice.
One mid-round prospect that’s turned heads during North team practice over the last two days has been Illinois defensive lineman Jihad Ward. The 6-foot-6, 295-pound end/tackle drew praise from Cowboys defensive coordinator and former Bucs D-Line coach Rod Marinelli, as he showed explosion off the line and tremendous power and agility in the four-bags drill. Marinelli could be heard yelling things like, “gettin’ it!” or “a little better” as other D-Lineman would run through the drill, while Ward would get the word “perfect!” thrown his way by the longtime D-Line specialist.
Getting recognized in a group consisting of Penn State’s Ryan Nassib, Notre Dame’s Sheldon Day or Ohio State’s Adolphus Washington, to name a few, can be extremely difficult, but Ward seems to be making a name for himself in Mobile.
Ward likely has a lot to prove during the Senior Bowl and Combine because his college stats left a lot to be desired. A two-year player for the Illini, his tackle-for-loss and sack numbers dipped from 8.5 and three in 2014 to 4.5 and 2.5 in 2015, neither season particularly jumping off the charts. Though he had 54 tackles, up from 50 his junior season, proving to be solid against the run. That’s an important stat for a guy who prides himself on being versatile, and one he backed up on Wednesday during the 11-on-11s portion.
Ward told PewterReport.com that he’s most comfortable in a 4-3 defense where he can line up at end or three-technique. “Its no difference for me,” he said, adding that he has experience playing inside on first and second down and rushing the passer as needed.
PewterReport.com’s 2016 Reese’s Senior Bowl coverage is sponsored by Gerber Collision & Glass.
Below is the rest of Ward’s quick Q&A from Tuesday night.
Jihad Ward, DL Illinois
(On his first day at practice)
“It was just fun to be back. I have good teammates and it’s just good to be back. It’s a good feeling.”
(On comfort playing end or tackle)
“It depends. I know defensive tackle and I know defensive end, so if coach wants me to play three-technique I’ll play three-technique. If coach wants me to set the edge I’ll set the edge.”
“I’m more comfortable in a 4-3. It’s been a while since I played in a 3-4, but like I said it’s a learning process and I’ll learn from it.”
“Pass rushing is just getting off the ball and just stopping the run. My competition is great, I have to be 100 percent every play. I can do better, but you just have to keep pushing forward and that’s just me. I do a lot of pursuit drills and I just like stopping the run.”
(On if he’s talked to the Bucs)
“Yeah, I talked to the Bucs. It went well”
(On lining up across form Donovan Smith in college)
“He’s a good kid, I like him a lot. He’s a big beast. It was a good battle, especially on the run when he tried to cling me out. It was a good competition playing against him. If you get a chance to talk to him tell him I said what’s up.”
(On Brandon Scherff, OT from Iowa drafted fifth overall by Washington in 2015)
“These guys are good. I think he was one of the top offensive lineman I played against from the Big 10.”
Zach is entering his 3rd year covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a writer for PewterReport.com. Since 2014, he's handled a large part of the beat reporting responsibilities at PR, attending all media gatherings and publishing and promoting content daily. Zach is a native of Sarasota, FL, and a graduate of the University of Tampa. He has also covered high school football for the Tampa Tribune and the NFL for Pro Player Insiders.
Contact him at: email@example.com
Big guy but don’t see him as the speed rusher we need.
Sounds like William Gholston to me. Would prefer we focus on guy with proven pass rush ability.
With all due respect to mothers everywhere and at the risk of political incorrectness, who in the heck would name their child Jihad?
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