With the loss of Freddie Milons and Jason McAddley, who are now playing in the NFL, the Tide coaches have been looking for another receiver to step up, preferably a deep threat, but especially one who can run the right routes and catch the ball consistently.
So they convinced Thurman Ward to move from defensive back to wide receiver.
As a redshirt freshman last season, Ward returned an interception 60 yards for a touchdown against Arkansas. Now he will have the chance to haul in touchdown passes of his own.
"They asked me right before spring," Ward said. "Coach Fran asked me if I wanted to play receiver. I told them I'd do whatever I could to help the team, and they told me they needed more height at the position. I feel pretty comfortable. I have to try to learn my routes a little bit better."
Last season, playing mainly as a backup at cornerback, Ward was credited with 10 tackles, one interception, two quarterback pressures, one pass breakup and one forced fumble. In his senior year of high school, the Mississippi native finished with 1,074 yards passing and 924 yards rushing while leading Starkville to an 8-3 record and an appearance in the playoffs.
Ward helped his cause at wide receiver in the first fall scrimmage, when he hauled in a 35-yard pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Brodie Croyle, the longest pass play of the day. He used his 6-1 frame and speed to catch the ball.
"It was 5-13 X curl," Ward said. "I didn't know I had the vertical until the end. I heard the coach on the sideline telling me to get out, and so I took off and ran. Brodie laid the ball out there and I decided I was going to go up there and get it before (my defender did). I didn't know I was so close to the end zone. If I had known that, I would have tried to get in."
The play, along with Ward's work ethic since being moved over to the receiver position, has impressed his coaches. He is fighting for a spot in the rotation with seniors Antonio Carter and Sam Collins, and juniors Dre Fulgham, Brandon Greer, Zach Fletcher, Tarry Givens, and Triandos Luke.
"He's got great speed, and his technique is very good right now," said Kenith Pope, wide receivers coach. "We just have to continue working with him. Hopefully he can get in that rotation and continue on working like he's working right now. He's got the type of speed and size you like. Hopefully by the time we play Middle Tennessee, he'll be ready to play."
Ward has somewhat of an advantage as he learns the position coming over from defense. "I know what defensive backs think like," Ward said. "It gives me an edge."
Although he has that edge, it hasn't been the easiest transition. It never is easy moving from one position to another, after playing that position for at least a year. But Ward was an option quarterback in high school, so he knows all about change.
"When I first made the switch, things were hard," Ward said. "They made me get with Sam Collins, he went over the plays with me in the huddle. We'd line up and he'd tell me where to go, but I'm pretty much comfortable with it now."
"At defense, you have a lot more freedom," he added. "They call the defense, and you play the defense. In offense, you got to go in motion and know the rub route, where to go, who to open up. You really have to focus on what you're doing."
But what the Tide needs, especially with the loss of Milons and McAddley, is another deep threat. Ward certainly has a chance to become that, although he wouldn't tell you.
"I wouldn't consider myself a deep threat, but I consider myself as a receiver," Ward said. "If they throw it up there and I can't get it, then nobody is supposed to have it. So I'm pretty much going to try to go up and get it."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Ward has displayed excellent athletic ability this fall at wideout, but he's still adjusting to the position. An exciting, long-range play will sometimes be followed by an unnecessary drop. Playing time will likely depend on his ability to establish consistency.