Bucs RB Ward guarantees improved performance
Derrick Ward sounded more like a rookie determined to make an NFL roster for the first time than a one-time 1,000-yard rusher who's being counted on to add some pep to Tampa Bay's sluggish running game.
The seventh-year pro struggled during last week's preseason opener at Miami and is eager to atone for a 12-carry, 20-yard, two-fumble performance in the mud that sparked questions about his future with the Buccaneers.
It also prompted Ward to guarantee he'll play better at home Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
''The field position we were in when I was in was just terrible. The mud was up to the top of my ankles,'' said Ward, who's entering the second season of a four-year, $17 million contract he signed as a free agent in March 2009.
''But you can't make excuses. You've got to play, and you've got to do what you need to do to win.''
And that's exactly what Ward, who turns 30 on Aug. 30, said he intends to do after playing a limited role in the offense in his first season in Tampa Bay.
A year removed from gaining 1,025 yards for the New York Giants while he and Brandon Jacobs were becoming only the fourth pair of NFL running backs to rush for more than 1,000 for the same team in the same season, Ward ran for 409 yards and one touchdown as a backup to Cadillac Williams in 2009.
Despite getting more production than anticipated from Williams, who ran for 823 yards after undergoing major knee surgery for the second time in just over a year, Tampa Bay ranked 23rd in rushing and 28th in total offense.
Ward reported to training camp this month, vowing to leave a disappointing year behind and team with Williams to give the Bucs a more potent ground attack.
He insists he's not concerned about last week's performance against the Dolphins costing him in his bid to earn more playing time.
Clifton Smith and Kareem Huggins, who rushed for 55 yards on eight carries in the preseason opener, are also competing for jobs behind Williams.
''I've been in this league for a while, and I know what it takes to win. I know what it takes to get back on track,'' Ward said. ''That was just a fluke game. But I guarantee you this weekend, I'll have a great game.''
Ward, who averaged 1.7 yards per carry and lost one of his two fumbles against the Dolphins, was visibly frustrated on the field.
Coach Raheem Morris said he was displeased with some of Ward's ''body language,'' and that the running back apologized to him and general manager Mark Dominik.
''That's the mental demons you've got to fight as a player. Those are the things you've got to be ready to deal with. You've got to have a mentally tough attitude,'' Morris said.
''As a man, Derrick was disappointed in himself ... and subsequently wants to improve that this week,'' the coach added. ''He'll get a chance to.''