Greg Ward

Greg Ward still learning wide receiver position after great college career at quarterback

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Greg Ward still learning wide receiver position after great college career at quarterback

Greg Ward threw more touchdown passes in college than Carson Wentz and had a higher career passer rating than Nick Foles. 

These days, his job is catching passes, not throwing them. 

It’s quite a transition from big-time NCAA Division 1 quarterback to NFL wide receiver, but at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, the former Houston Cougar knows where his future is.

Ward spent all of last year on the Eagles’ practice squad, learning the nuances of a new position and figuring out how to think like a receiver instead of a quarterback. 

He looked surprisingly polished at wide out in training camp, caught nine passes for 63 yards in the preseason and then spent the season focusing on getting better.

“I still haven’t 100 percent gotten the position,” Ward said after a recent rookie camp practice. “I always feel like I can get better, always feel like I can learn something new, feel like there’ll always be something to improve on. 

“Last year was a big year for me. Just learning a new position, learning football period, learning from Alshon (Jeffery), Torrey (Smith) and Nelson (Agholor), it was a very important year for me.

“Just gathering every bit of information I could watching those guys practice and watching them in games and then learning how to apply what you’ve learned to your game.”

Ward never did get a chance to play, but he said he felt himself getting better as the year went along.

“Everybody wants to play,” said Ward, who led Houston to a Peach Bowl win over No. 9 Florida State in Atlanta at the end of his junior year. 

“You’re a competitor, that’s why we all do this. But I was humbled and thankful just to be on a Super Bowl team. Just to be in the NFL period. Some guys aren’t able to play football at all. I’m just grateful to be on a football team. 

“But this is not the end of my story. I am going to get out there and I am going to play.”

Ward was with the Eagles during their postseason run and he was there in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl.

He used every moment, every day, as an opportunity to improve. Even if nobody could see it happening.

“The biggest thing I learned was just being patient, just being humble,” he said. “Our team last year, there was nobody that was selfish. Nobody who thought they were bigger than anybody else. I learned patience and the importance of doing extra. Getting extra work, studying more, watching more film. That’s what it takes to win a championship.”

The Eagles have quite a crowd at wide receiver, with Jeffery, Agholor and Mack Hollins back, Wallace and Markus Wheaton in the fold and guys like Bryce Treggs, Shelton Gibson and Rashard Davis all also in the mix.

But Ward doesn’t concern himself with the numbers.

“The next step for me is to separate myself,” he said. "As a competitor, especially coming from being undrafted, you have to separate yourself. You have to be different. 

“You have to catch whoever’s eye it is, head coach, position coach, catch everybody’s eyes. They have to see value in you. That’s where I am right now. Trying to separate myself.”

How long will it take?

“I’m leaving that up to God,” he said. “I know I’m putting in the hard work and I know one day it will pay off. I know that day will come.”

Eagles Stay or Go — Young receiver; Chance Warmack

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Eagles Stay or Go — Young receiver; Chance Warmack

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles. All of our previous Stay or Go posts can be found here.

Greg Ward
Roob:
Ward is the former Houston quarterback who the Eagles converted into a wide receiver and kept around on the practice squad all year. Ward is a tremendous athlete with decent size and tremendous speed, and the Eagles looked at him all along as a long-term project, so don't be surprised if they keep him around on the practice squad for another year as an investment. Ward is still only 22 and did enough in training camp to make you think at some point in a year or two he could be a functional NFL wide receiver.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The undrafted receiver out of the University of Houston had a good training camp and then spent the 2017 season on the Eagles' practice squad. The former quarterback is still learning the position, but definitely made an impression on the team. Many thought he deserved a roster spot coming into the season. He'll have another shot at a spot this year, but the odds are probably against him. 

Verdict: GOES

Chance Warmack
Roob:
In a season in which Doug Pederson and his staff did very, very few things wrong, they did misjudge Warmack, who was terrible in training camp and predictably couldn't hang onto the left guard spot after Isaac Seumalo did little to impress the coaches. Warmack ultimately gave way to third choice Stefen Wisniewski, who was very good. As for Warmack, he's only 26 and has 51 career starts under his belt, so somebody is going to give him a shot. It won't be the Eagles.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Some folks probably think Warmack was a disappointment in 2017 because the Eagles gave him an opportunity to take over as their starting left guard and he couldn't beat out Wisniewski. That's partially true, but Warmack did play well at other times and was the Eagles' best backup interior lineman this season. He got a modest contract extension and is a decent depth piece. 

Verdict: STAYS

How Eagles are using Greg Ward to prepare for 'crazy athlete' Cam Newton

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How Eagles are using Greg Ward to prepare for 'crazy athlete' Cam Newton

Eagles wide receiver Greg Ward won’t take a single snap Thursday against the Panthers. He isn’t even on the 53-man roster. Yet, Ward might be the most important player on the practice field this week, getting his teammates prepared for the unique challenge of going up against quarterback Cam Newton.

“It was pretty fun just getting back there in the backfield,” Ward said Tuesday.

A member of the Eagles’ 10-man practice squad, Ward has been charged with emulating Newton in drills this week. Even in a practice setting, it sounds an awful lot like an impossible task. Based on size alone, Ward measures 5-foot-11, 196 pounds, compared to Newton listed at 6-5, 245 — not to mention his three trips to the Pro Bowl and NFL Most Valuable Player award.

Yet, while Ward may be a rookie just hoping to one day crack a roster as a receiver, the undrafted rookie also happens to have played quarterback at the University of Houston. It just so happens he may be uniquely suited for this role.

“I try to do what Cam does,” Ward said. “Cam is a crazy athlete. He can run the ball and he can throw the ball, so whatever he does.

“I’ve been watching him since I was brought up, so I kind of know how he plays. When I’m out there, I try to imitate him and do what he does.”

At his best, Newton is as difficult an athlete as there is to beat. Coincidentally, he’s been at his best the last two weeks. The seventh-year veteran completed 77.4 percent of his passes for 10.8 yards per attempt with six touchdowns and one interception, plus ran for 44 yards and a score in back-to-back wins over the Patriots and Lions.

Newton is officially hot, and he’s going to be a handful for the Eagles' defense.

“You have to be good in so many different areas,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “He can be a pocket passer, he can run the read-option, he can run designed runs, he can run off-schedule runs, but he's as good a pocket passer as there is.

“I think that's what makes it's difficult to defend every one of those. He's not a one-trick pony. He has mobility, he has designed runs. They do a lot of different things and we'll have to play our best team defense.”

It doesn’t help the Eagles have only a matter of days to prepare, as opposed to a traditional full week (see story). Practices leading up to this contest are fewer in number and significantly less involved than normal.

“In a short week, it’s tough because it’s more mental than it is physical,” Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “And no matter what, it’s always going to be tough to mimic Cam.”

Despite the fact Newton can spin the football as well as anybody — he enters the week ranked fourth with a 68.3 completion percentage — Ward revealed the Eagles were focusing primarily on the signal caller’s mobility, at least as far as his involvement was concerned.

Newton isn’t even the only weapon the Eagles are worried about. Ward has also been attempting to fill the shoes of Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, the eighth overall pick in the 2017 draft and a key cog in the offense.

“I watched a couple of his games,” Ward said of McCaffrey. “I like the way he balls. I like what he brings to the table as far as the athlete he is. I think he’s an exceptional athlete.”

McCaffrey’s carries have only diminished since the beginning of the season, but he’s seeing plenty of action in the passing attack. The 21-year-old has already recorded 27 receptions for 237 yards with one touchdown.

“(The Panthers) get him the ball in the run game, use him as a true wide receiver, and then get him option routes out of the backfield,” Schwartz said. “A lot like a (Eagles running back) Darren Sproles.”

The Eagles have players like McCaffrey and Newton with Sproles and quarterback Carson Wentz. But Sproles is injured and out for the season, and Wentz must get ready for a stifling Carolina defense.

That leaves Ward to simulate what not one, but two dynamic players bring to the table for a Panthers offense that’s found a rhythm. He won’t suit up Thursday, though. All Ward is able to do now is go flat out in practice and hope that it’s making his teammates better.

“Whenever the ball touches my hands, I try to score,” Ward said. “You’re trying to make guys miss if you’re in the backfield running the ball or you’re catching it running routes. You’re just trying to score.

“That’s what the other guys are doing on other teams. They’re trying to score every time they get the ball, so that’s the best thing is just going full speed and going hard.”