New Buccaneers safety T.J. Ward expressed his discontent with how he was being used – or not used – after Tampa Bay’s 30-27 loss at Buffalo on Sunday, according to ESPN’s Jenna Laine.
“I came here to be an impact player,” Ward, who was a three-time Pro Bowler in Denver, told Laine and other reporters after the game. “I can’t do that if I’m not out on the field.”
Listed as a free safety but playing more of the strong safety position, Ward played 24 snaps on Sunday, which was 35 percent of the snaps. Justin Evans, the team’s second round draft pick, played all 68 snaps on defense, while Chris Conte, the team’s other starter at safety on Sunday, played 39 snaps, which was 57 percent of the plays on defense. Keith Tandy played five snaps (seven percent). Evans had six tackles on Sunday, while Conte and Ward each had three tackles. Tandy did not record any stats.
“You have to ask [defensive coordinator] Mike Smith and [coach] Dirk Koetter about that, but I’m at my wit’s end,” Ward said. “I did not come here to rotate. I did not come here to be a part-time player.
“I’m only playing every two series,” Ward said. “I’m not out there all the time. There’s a lot going on. I’d love to help, but I can’t. It’s very frustrating.”
Ward was on the field in coverage when tight end Logan Thomas scored a 22-yard touchdown in the third quarter to give the Bills a 17-6 lead. Buffalo ran a pick play and Ward got rubbed in coverage and was a step behind Thomas all the way to the end zone. Last week in Arizona, Ward bit on a play-action fake in the red zone that allowed Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald to score a touchdown uncovered.
Ward has missed some time with a hip injury has has 15 tackles and two pass breakups on the season.
“Each week there is going to be a different dynamic,” Smith said, explaining the rotation at safety. “T.J. was coming off an injury. He missed some time the previous week. He missed some time in practice. We’ve got, I think, very good depth at the safety position. I think each one of the guys has a different skill set that is going to help us based on who we are playing and how they are trying to attack us. I’ve said it many times – there are more than 11 starters on the defense.”
To make matters worse for Koetter, whose team is 2-4 and reeling with three straight losses in a season filled with playoff expectations, is the fact that Ward isn’t the only veteran defender voicing his displeasure. New defensive tackle Chris Baker retweeted an ESPN tweet with the Ward story, saying: “FACTS I feel the same way Bro.”
Is Baker simply agreeing with the fact that Ward has been underused, or is Baker upset with his own lack of snaps on defense? Baker finished with four tackles in Buffalo, but played just 30 snaps (44 percent). Defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Clinton McDonald played 66 (97 percent) and 20 snaps (29 percent), respectively. McCoy recorded one tackle and McDonald didn’t record any stats.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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