The Oakland Raiders surprised some when they selected Illinois defensive lineman Jihad Ward in the second round of last month's NFL Draft.
Ward is coming off of what some called a disappointing season where he fought a knee injury that forced him to have microfracture surgery. While some teams thought his knee would need more surgery, the Raiders doctors saw something different.
The former Fighting Illini was on the field with the rest of the rookies when they were first allowed to hit the field this week, and it was no surprise to his new head coach.
“He looked pretty good, right? Don’t trust all those reports out there," Head coach Jack Del Rio said after Friday's rookie minicamp. "We felt pretty good about our reports. He looks terrific. He’s very athletic. I think you get a chance to talk to him today and you’ll find he’s a little bit like Amari [Cooper]. A little soft-spoken… Maybe not quite as much. He’s a serious guy and an intelligent guy. He’s got very good athletic ability and we’re excited to have him.”
It's no surprise to Ward either, who says the injury is past him and he's focused on playing football now.
“That situation, what happened in the football season last year, I had surgery on it, but I’m completely fine," Ward said Friday. "I’m running around. I’m flying around. As Coach Del Rio said, ‘Just keep flying around.’ So I’m doing what I have to do.”
The young, athletic defensive lineman feels like he can make an impact on the Raiders right away, but that won't stop him from continuously using the resources surrounding him on the Silver & Black.
“I’m ready, but I still need coaches just to help me," Ward said. "You have to learn from the greats. I’m learning from all these coaches. [Defensive coordinator] Coach [Ken] Norton, [Jr.], [defensive line] coach [Jethro Franklin] and even Coach Del Rio. You can be great, but you have to learn from coaches. I’m [inaudible] from that and I’m confident with that.”