The word ‘bust’ is already being thrown around for the Raiders 2016 2nd round (44th overall) draft pick after a rough rookie season. Then, just as Ward was said to be having a very productive offseason going, it was derailed by a foot injury.
The injury happened in OTA’s in early June and required surgery. Missing all of mini camp and the first half of training camp can make for a tough road back.
It also just made the critics louder.
Shortly after the injury, Ward retweeted Ray Lewis’s stance when it comes to ‘haters’.
There will be haters, there will be doubters, there will be non-believers. Then there will be you - proving them wrong.— Ray Lewis (@raylewis) June 11, 2017
“They’re just trying to hate people trying to do what they have to do, keep on pushing. That’s all,” Ward said after Tuesday’s practice. “There will be critics everywhere. People are going to hate regardless. People are going to hate on y’all doing this, it is what it is.”
Any time a player, especially a young player misses the kind of time Ward has this offseason it can take some time for him to get back into football shape and be able to perform at his previous level.
“Well sure, he’s going to have a little rust he’ll have to work through,” Said head coach Jack Del Rio on Tuesday. “There’s no doubt about that. He’s been paying attention, and we’ll get a good look at him this week.”
For his part, Ward doesn’t agree with that assessment. He is excited to be back with the team and doesn’t feel like there will be any drop off from his previous level of performance. He seemed almost insulted by the idea of being “rusty”.
“Hell no. Nope. I’m still doing what I got to do, rehab-wise,” Ward said. “Taking some mental reps in the d-line room. I can’t sit on my ass all day so I have to do what I got to do. Other than that, I’m just chilling and getting ready. I’m happy to be out here.”
His coaches are glad to have him back in the fold and excited about the progress Ward showed prior to his absence.
“We’re excited about the offseason that he had prior to needing to kind of mend,” said Del Rio. “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.”
The biggest leap most players make is between their first and second seasons. It sounds like Ward was experiencing similar results early in the offseason. The hope is that he can pick up where he left off rather quickly.
“He’s pretty strong,” Del Rio continued. “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 may certainly hope that is the case as Raiders rookie defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes has had a strong offseason and has performed well in his first two preseason appearances. Much like the injury to Raiders defensive tackle Mario Edwards Jr. gave Ward playing time last season, Wards absence has opened the door for another rookie to prove himself. This extra playing time will help the Raiders depth on the defensive line this season.
Ward struggled at times in his rookie season. He will be another player in a growing rotation of young defensive linemen the Raiders will be counting on this season. If he can pick up where he left off in his growth and live up to his potential in his second season those “haters” will be harder to find.