Ward requests move to corner

The first two days of spring are always spent with NCAA-mandated shorts-only workouts, which basically means there is precious little news to report. <br><br>But the appearance of junior Thurman Ward at cornerback took most observers by surprise.

"With the new coaching staff coming in, I went in and talked to Coach Price and told him that I felt I would do better at defensive back," Ward said.

For Thurman Ward, the switch is simply a return back home to the position he played his first two years of college. Last season he worked at receiver, but in his mind that was always temporary. Ward explained, "I made the decision last year to move to offense, which was my decision, to help the team. I didn't get as many reps as I thought I was going to get."

One of the most physically gifted skill players on the squad, Ward (#1)hopes to make an impact in the Tide secondary.

Seeing spot duty in 10 games, last year Ward had just one reception versus Vanderbilt. Used principally as an option quarterback on the gadget end-around play, Ward officially finished with one net yard on four rushes. That "total" includes a 24-yard gain versus Tennessee and three losses for minus 23 yards.

"I prefer defense," Ward revealed. "Last year the coaches came to me and asked me to move. I didn't go to them. I wanted to help the team by doing what they asked me to do, but I prefer to play defensive back."

Ward signed with Alabama in 2000 and redshirted his first year on campus. As a redshirt freshman defensive back, he saw action in every game, totaling 215 snaps on the year. He finished that season with 10 tackles, two quarterback pressures, one pass break-up, one forced fumble, and a memorable 60-yard touchdown run following an interception.

With a long frame and very good speed, Ward hopes to make an impact in the defensive backfield. "Things are really going well," he said following Wednesday's practice. "I like the whole secondary. We've got a lot of depth, which is the thing I like the most. When one guy comes out, the guy that goes in to replace him is probably just as good, if not better. That's going to make us very good this year."

Like the rest of the Tide squad, Ward is adjusting to a new position coach, Chris Ball. A 16-year coaching veteran, Ball made the move with Mike Price from Washington State to Tuscaloosa. "I really love Coach Ball," Ward said. "He's a real positive guy. He's not going to talk down about you. The only time he yells is when he's excited.

"He's in my corner, so I'm in his corner."

The Tide hasn't even donned full pads yet, so it's way too early to talk about specific positions. Ward will play anywhere he's needed, but he likes to think of himself as a cover corner.

"They haven't really placed me at one spot yet," Ward related. "I'm working corner right now, but Coach Ball has told me that I will be working some safety. I've got myself ready for the physical part. Coming up and tackling I'll be looking for run first and then pass. I'm ready for it. I hope that I'm playing free safety over strong. I prefer to play free. But I really want to stay at cornerback."

Shown here warming up with the other defensive backs in 2001, Ward asked the new staff for permission to move back to cornerback from wide receiver.

Generally (though not always) safeties are heavier than their corner counterparts, but Ward has bulked up during his three years at The Capstone. "I'm right at 189 or 190," he revealed.

"When I first got here I was maybe like 175," he said, laughing at the memory of that skinny kid. "I've come a long way. This is my fourth year here. I'd be a senior if I hadn't redshirted. I'll have this year and one more, so I'm trying to take advantage."

Three of the four defensive backs who started for Alabama versus Hawaii have now graduated. Starting free safety Charles Jones and part-time starting cornerback Charlie Peprah are back, leaving slots at both cornerback and strong safety to fill.

"This spring is an opportunity for me, but I think it's an opportunity for everybody," Ward said. "The positions are wide open right now. Everybody is getting a look. We're all competing against each other, and that's what's going to make us better. The competition is wide open."

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