Witness the unexpected travels of one Chad Ward, a heralded offensive lineman out of the University of Washington. The picture above shows him at a wonderful moment in his life: co-captain of a Washington Huskies team that was representing the Pac-10 in the 2001 Rose Bowl.
Ward's college career was exceptionally successful. He was a four-year starter in Washington and a key to the Huskie's offensive success. Named a first-team All-American by TSN, AP, and just about anyone else with a list his Senior year, Ward was considered to be one of the best linemen available in the 2001 draft. He ran a 5.09 40-yard dash at the combines (the same as later first-round pick OG Steve Hutchinson) and did well in the bench press. Ward held the UW record for the squat thrust, with an amazing 733 pounds. The college experience, the measureables, were all on his side. Even his head of flaming red hair made the lineman seem bigger than life.
Pre-draft analyses all over the web - you can still find them if you look - had Ward going in the first round, second round, first day, and so forth. When Ward slid to the second day, it was no surprise that Jaguars head coach Tom Coughlin, who had impending salary cap issues on the line, traded a 2002 fifth-round pick so that he could move up in the sixth round and draft Ward, not far from the spot where the Browns drafted fellow offensive lineman Paul Zukauskas.
Since that time, Ward has bounced around near the bottom of three NFL rosters. He was originally released by the Jaguars in 2001 during their final cuts, only to be immediately signed back onto the practice squad (the same exact thing the Browns did with Zukauskas). The 49ers, perhaps looking for an eventual replacement for Ray Brown, snatched Ward from the Jags practice squad late in his rookie year.
On August 26, 2002, Ward sprained a medial collaterol ligament in his right knee during an exhibition game against the Raiders. The 49ers, needing to get down to the mandatory 53-man roster, waived Ward the next day.
Butch Davis, always with an eye open for ways to enhance the Browns talent level, snatched up Ward late in the 2002 season. Ward spent the end of the 2002 campaign on the Browns practice squad, keeping ready if another call came to try to break through onto an NFL active roster.
As the team prepares for the 2003 season, Ward is an almost-forgotten component of the Browns offensive line mix. Like Paul Zukauskas, whose path has seemed to run in parallel with his, Ward isn't discussed as a possible starter and rarely mentioned in the local press.
But Ward is very much a Cleveland Brown as of this writing, and will still have that chance to start that long pro career so many experts felt was certain back in 2001. Far down the roster and away from the headlines, an All-American is getting ready.