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Safety T.J. Ward irritated with Broncos but pleased to join Bucs

T.J. Ward, shown with the Broncos, is happy with the Bucs but still irritated about his Denver departure.
Published Sep. 5, 2017

TAMPA — T.J. Ward stretched his legs and chatted with defensive coordinator Mike Smith before his first practice with the Bucs. He had only three hours of sleep, and after signing a one-year, $5 million contract Monday morning he pulled on his familiar No. 43 jersey that had been given up by running back Peyton Barber.

At 10:55 a.m., temperatures already were in the mid 80s and climbing with humidity he certainly didn't experience the past three seasons in Denver.

While Ward may have given up the high altitude of the Rocky Mountains, he brought some attitude.

"T.J. told me, he said, 'Dad, my goal is to be first team All-Pro,' " said Ward's father, Terrell, who spent parts of two seasons at defensive back with the Eagles. " 'That's my goal. I want to be All-Pro with all the teams I've been with.' His motivation is way up there. I said, 'So, if you do that, you guys are going to win a (championship) because you got some good players around you.' "

Ward still was disappointed about the way the Broncos said goodbye to the leader of the No Fly Zone. He had one year remaining with Denver and had missed all four preseason games nursing a hamstring strain.

Rumors started flying a week ago that the Broncos were trying to find a trading partner before the club decided Friday to release the three-time Pro Bowl safety. Cutting loose a player who starred in Super Bowl 50 one week before the regular season opener did not sit well with Ward or many of his Broncos teammates.

"You know, it's unfortunate the way they handled that situation," Ward said Monday. "They got to live with it. I got to live with it and we'll see what happens, but I'm going to make sure I land on my feet. That's just me. And whatever happens to them, happens to them. That's on them.

"I mean you could've let me know what's going on. You had a full offseason. I know it's a business, but when you have good employees, you're supposed to treat your employees a certain way. I think they just handled it completely unprofessional. That's just how I feel."

Ward, 30, will now have a chance to line up against his brother, Terron, who is a running back with the Falcons. Ward will replace either Chris Conte or Keith Tandy in the Bucs lineup and start for them as early as Sunday's opener at Miami.

"I'm getting ready for Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. That's where my mind is at,'' he said. "I'm going to do everything possible to help this team win starting now. Since I put my name on that paper, that's all that matters professionally and football-wise.

Ward is used to overcoming adversity. At De La Salle High School in Concord, Calif., he waited his turn to become a starter as a senior only to see his season cut short by a torn patellar injury, and he decided to walk on at Oregon.

The Browns drafted Ward in the second round in 2010, and in his fourth season he made his first Pro Bowl. But they didn't make re-signing him as a free agent a priority, and he wound up leading the Broncos defense to a win in Super Bowl 50 over the Panthers.

Ward's Broncos teammates voiced strong opinions about it. Outside of the Denver front office, people believe the Bucs were kissed by good fortune. Former Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips tweeted, "TB got a great player and leader-one of the very best I've ever had the privilege to coach good luck Terrell Ray (T.J.)"

Herm Edwards, a teammate of Ward's dad in Philadelphia in 1980, loved the signing. "Good get for Tampa," he said. "He's a box player. Tough. He will set the tempo and is a good team guy."

Ward reportedly had a half-dozen teams interested in signing him but chose Tampa Bay because of the composition of their locker room and quarterback Jameis Winston.

"I feel like Tampa had the best locker room with the players they have. It seemed like they had a good mix of vets and young players and guys hungry to win," Ward said. "Of course, Jameis and his leadership and his ability on the field. Playing against him last year really impressed me.

Winston had one of his worst games against the Broncos, going 17-of-35 passing for 179 yards and two interceptions.

"He kept his team fired up the whole game," Ward said. "He made plays when we thought we were off the field. He was a young player last year, we were one of the best defenses against the pass. Sometimes you see quarterbacks tank if the game is over or if it's not going your way, but he kept that energy the whole game."

Ward said he watched episodes of Hard Knocks: Training camp with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and got a feel for the players.

"I saw a little bit. Just a little bit about a couple players with Hard Knocks," Ward said. "I can't say it didn't (have an influence). It just exposed the team a little bit more. I definitely subconsciously, if not consciously, saw something I liked."

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