Defensive End Jihad Ward
As a rookie, Jihad Ward played in all 16 regular season games for the Oakland Raiders.
He made 13 starts, and finished his first season in Silver and Black with 31 total tackles. He carried that positive momentum into his first NFL offseason, and by all accounts the versatile defensive end was putting together a strong Offseason Workout Program until an injury sidelined him for the duration of training camp.
One could wonder if that lull would stop the positive momentum Ward built up over the past several months, but when asked, Ward responded – pretty emphatically in fact.
“Hell no,” said Ward. “Nope. I’m still doing what I got to do rehabbing-wise, and taking some mental reps in the room, in the d-line room, and – I just can’t sit on my ass all day – so I have to do what I have to do, but other than that, I’m just chilling, just getting ready. That’s all. I’m just happy to be out here.”
Ward officially passed a physical Monday, and was back on the practice field with his defensive teammates Tuesday, going through individual drills in the portion of practice that was open to the media.
It remains to be seen if No. 95 will get his first action of the preseason Saturday night when the Silver and Black head to Texas to take on the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium, but regardless of whether or not he sees the field so soon after his return, Head Coach Jack Del Rio is happy to have Ward back in the mix.
“We’re excited about the offseason that he [Ward] had prior to needing to kind of mend,” Del Rio said. “He’s a good, young player that had a really strong offseason. We’re excited about letting him compete and letting him show us what he can do. I know he’s a big, strong, athletic guy. Certainly great to have him back at work and able to continue to develop him.”
If all goes to plan, part of that development will result in channeling Ward’s natural gifts – he is 6’5” and nearly 300 pounds after all – to make him an imposing, and effective, figure in the interior of the Raiders defensive line.
“He’s pretty strong,” added Del Rio. “I thought he was more decisive in everything he did. A little bit like Karl [Joseph] in terms of guys that are in their second year. They’ve kind of gone through it. As a rookie, you learn the ropes, you learn the kind of things that are going to come up, and you’re a little more comfortable in your own skin and what you’re being asked to do within the scheme.”
Ward echoed the sentiment of his head coach, saying that in 2017, he’s understandably far more comfortable than he was as a rookie fresh off a career at the University of Illinois.
“Your first year coming here, you’re thinking too much,” Ward said. “Now it’s like ‘OK I get it now.’ That’s how it is for all rookies. They just have to learn what’s going on, so I feel it. Everything is easier now, it’s my second years now. It’s regular.”
“I missed this stuff every day,” he added. “Offseason, when they say breaks, there really aren’t any breaks. No days off in football.”
-In addition to Ward, tight end Cooper Helfet also returned to practice Tuesday for the first time since the Offseason Workout Program. Prior to Tuesday, Helfet was on the Non-Football Injury list, but like Ward, passed a physical Monday, allowing him to get back to work.
-Even though offensive lineman Jon Feliciano had a pretty nice kickoff return Saturday night against the Los Angeles Rams, don’t expect to see the big man get too many more chances going forward.
“Yeah, that’s a tough decision (laughing),” Head Coach Del Rio deadpanned. “How can we get the ball in Feliciano’s hands. That’s what we’re looking for. No, obviously we’re glad we have an athletic guy there and able to catch punts and able to take that ball and get some yardage. We’ll stick with 84.”
-If you didn’t know, wide receiver Amari Cooper started a book club at the start of 2017. So what’s on No. 89’s bed stand these days? “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett.