One of the more criticized picks for the Raiders in last weekend's draft was second round pick, Jihad Ward. The primary concern is his lack of production and his being a raw prospect.
Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie acknowledged in his post draft press conference how raw Ward is, but emphasized they love his physical abilities and that they'll "coach him up" in the hopes of maximizing his potential.
"Jihad has been playing defensive line for a handful of years," said McKenzie. "You can count them all on one hand and still have fingers left. . . We just thought he was a good football player with a great upside. We just jumped at the chance to be the team to have him, coach him up and see how far he can go."
That word ‘upside' gets tossed around with prospects like Ward due to his having not played the position of defensive end until his senior year in high school and having played just two seasons of division one football. McKenzie was asked again Monday in an interview with Bay Area radio station 95.7 The Game what the Raiders interest was in Ward.
"Ward is coming from the JuCo route, but let me tell you something, you get a guy that's over 6-5, 300 pounds and can move and play hard like he does, our defensive coaches are salivating to get their hands on him," McKenzie said.
The production concerns with Ward mostly center around his low sack totals. He had just 4.5 sacks in his two seasons at Illinois. The Raiders aren't as concerned with those numbers because they intend on moving him inside to play 3-tech defensive tackle. The part of his game Ward has shown up well already is stopping the run.
That being said, the Raiders don't just need a run stopper. They need to get some pass rush from the defensive tackle spot. They have several nose tackles on the team who can clog the middle, led by Dan Williams. That's the area coaches like defensive line coach Jethro Franklin are looking forward to developing.
Del Rio has said he filled his staff with teachers, which is why many of the coaches were hired out of the college ranks such as Franklin and linebackers coach Sal Sunseri. Ward offers those coaches a lot of raw material with which to work.
They will get their first chance to coach him and the other rookies at minicamp May 13.