When return specialist Lamont Brightful suffered a mild concussion in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, standout safety Ed Reed replaced him and fumbled a punt away late in the fourth quarter. "It gives us some additional options return-wise," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, noting that Ward will have to learn the offense quickly to be active on Sundays. "As you can see when we drop Ed Reed out there, it's always a concern not because Ed can't handle the package, but Ed is already taking 65-70 snaps a game."
Ward has returned 106 career punts for an 8.4 average and 70 kickoffs for a 14.0 average. He has 159 career receptions for 2,196 yards and 11 touchdowns. Ward, who was cut by the New England Patriots at the close of training camp, said he signed a one-year contract for the veteran minimum. That would be worth $655,000 for a player with his seven years of experience. Under a rule in the collective bargaining agreement extension, all minimum salaries beyond four years of experience will only count for roughly $450,000 against teams' salary cap.
The Ravens waived cornerback Alvin Porter to sign Ward. "I'm not coming in here to try to save the world," said Ward, who caught a red-eye flight from Las Vegas on Sunday night after a successful try-out last Wednesday. "I realize they have a strong chemistry, strong pieces of the puzzle and, hopefully, I can find a niche and complete the puzzle." Brightful has recovered from the concussion and is averaging 7.3 yards per punt return after averaging 16.1 in a rookie campaign that included a 95-yard punt return for a touchdown.
On kickoffs, Chester Taylor and Brightful have combined for a 21.8 average. Ward said he wasn't certain if he would be used heavily as a return specialist or not. "It's definitely something I've done in my career," Ward said. "If that's my niche on the team, I just have to take advantage of that to the best of my ability." Brightful said he didn't feel threatened by Ward's presence. "I believe competition makes you work a little bit harder," Brightful said. "That's just part of the business and there's nothing I can do about that."
Ward had spent his entire career in the AFC East after being drafted in the third round by the New York Jets in 1997 out of Northern Iowa. His best season was in 2000 with the Jets with 54 catches for 801 yards and three touchdowns. Ward had a two-year stint with the Miami Dolphins, totaling 40 catches for 201 yards, before being cut last winter. He was released by New England despite catching five passes for 100 yards in the Patriots' exhibition finale. "It was just an unfortunate situation," Ward said. "Hopefully, this can be a good fit for me and I can have some success here."
NOTES: Running back Musa Smith said his knee feels much better weeks after returning to practice following arthroscopic surgery. "I don't know if they'll play me this game or not," the third-round draft pick from Georgia said. "I feel like I'm ready to go, but they don't tell me much." … Safety Gerome Sapp said he expects to return from a sprained medial collateral ligament on Sunday. … Fullback and chief wedge-buster Harold Morrow worked out, but is still recovering from a cracked elbow.
Aaron Wilson writes for The Carroll County Times