The Tampa Bay Buccaneers introduced new running back Derrick Ward to the media on Tuesday. Ward signed a four-year contract with the Bucs on Monday night. Ward and the Bucs envision a powerful running back combination with Ward and returning halfback Earnest Graham.
"I'm excited to be here and to get a fresh start," Ward said. "I felt this was the right fit for me. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a great organization. I think me coming here and being part of this organization that my role can be to help this team get to the next level and that's the Super Bowl."
Ward said that Tampa Bay was his first choice among a number of teams that were interested in signing him.
"This was my first choice," said Ward. "I told my agent when this whole process started to get me to Tampa. He made it work for me. I'm a Buccaneer.
"I just thought it was a great fit. I know Earnest is the guy here and hopefully he'll embrace me and I'll embrace him and we'll work well together. It's going to be exciting. I wish we could start practicing today, but we have to wait a few more weeks for the first mini-camp."
Ward played five years with the New York Giants. His best season was last year when he ran for 1,025 yards and two touchdowns with 41 receptions 384 yards. Per carry Ward averaged 5.6 yards, which led the NFL for halfbacks that had 100 or more carries.
"I'm excited. I'm fired up," Ward said. "I think Earnest and I will make a great combination. I think we're going to turn some heads this year running the ball. I bring a lot of things to the table as far as a running back in terms of catching, passing, blocking and whatever the team needs me to do. I think Earnest and I will be a great complement to each other."
Ward was asked what kind of running back Bucs fans can expect to see.
"I can do a variety of things," Ward said. "I can be a pass-receiving running back. I can be a one-cut running back or a power running back. I can do it all. My style of running, my solid play will fit in perfectly with this offense. We have all the key components for a great offense with the transactions that they have made this offseason. They have bolstered the offense."
In his career, Ward has also been a kick returner with 40 returns for 923 yards (23.0 yards per return) and one touchdown. General manager Mark Dominik echoed the opinion that Ward is a running back with diverse skills.
"He is a very versatile back," said Dominik. "He carried the ball on first and second down. He does have very good hands out of the backfield. He's a willing pass protector. He has good size. He still has some good speed to him to make the long plays that I'm sure you'll see over the last year and what we are looking forward to. He's a back in the same mold as Earnest Graham is in that Earnest can play on first, second, or third down, so can Derrick Ward. I think that is really important for what we want to do offensively."
Ward also comes to a Buccaneers team that features a young talented offensive line. Guard Davin Joseph was just named to his first Pro Bowl, and center Jeff Faine was a Pro Bowl alternate. Left tackle Donald Penn is a restricted free agent that was placed with the highest tender possible, causing a team to give up a first-round pick to sign him.
"They remind me a lot of our group up there in New York," Ward said. "They are young and they've been together for two or three years now. There is a lot of great talent on that offensive line. With me and Earnest, and hopefully if Cadillac gets back healthy, it will be the new edition of "Earth, Wind and Fire."
Ward also looked forward to sharing carries with Graham.
"Most everybody is running two and three back systems now. That's just going to work to our advantage," Ward said. "If you have two or three running backs who can get the job done over the course of any game, it's going to pay dividends to the offense and the team as a whole."
Ward had some travels playing at two colleges and finishing at Ottawa College in Kansas. He entered the NFL as a seventh-round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft by the New York Jets.
"My ride in the NFL has been a long journey from not playing, to the injuries to making a name for myself," Ward said. "I just took advantage of my opportunities. My opportunity came in the '07 season, and I was able to showcase my abilities. This past year, I was able to make history with one of my teammates (Brandon Jacobs). It's been a whirlwind affair for me, and I'm just embracing right now.
"I have preserved through a lot of stuff throughout my five years in the NFL. Through not playing and the injuries and being able to play and make a name for myself – it's paid off tremendously for me. I'm at a point in my career where I know I can be a veteran leader for this team and younger guys can look up to me and ask me questions. I've been on winning teams, I've been on a losing team in the NFL. My rookie year we were 7-9 and then three or four years later we won a Super Bowl."
Ward's journey into NFL scene is similar to the path that Graham had to break the Buccaneers line-up. Graham was a backup player that only saw the field on special teams for years. Graham was a third-string player until two injuries during the 2007 season forced him into the starting lineup. He ran for almost 900 yards that season and scored 10 touchdowns.
"I think they both have somewhat of a great past which has gotten them to where they are today is that they both have had to earn everything that they have ever gotten," said Dominik. "I personally am a big fan of that. I just think that shows a lot of passion towards the game, and so that is why we thought in discussions that they would work very well together and we are excited for them to be in the backfield and share the backfield together."