Among all players with at least 600 rushing yards last season, RB Derrick Ward had the highest yards-per-carry average
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are determined to add firepower in 2009.
Four days after a dramatic trade for tight end , the Buccaneers have added another offensive threat in former New York Giants running back Derrick Ward.
Ward arrived at Buccaneers headquarters on Tuesday to officially sign his contract. As is team policy, terms of the deal were not announced.
Ward, an unrestricted free agent, is coming off a career-best season in which he cracked the 1,000-yard mark despite getting less than 200 carries. He set personal single-season bests in rushes (182), rushing yards (1,025), receptions (41) and receiving yards (384). Ward's average of 5.6 yards per carry was the best in the NFL among all players with at least 600 rushing yards.
Ward piled up over 1,400 combined yards despite sharing time in a three-man backfield with starter Brandon Jacobs and fellow reserve Ahmad Bradshaw. With Jacobs posting 1,089 yards and Bradshaw adding 355, the Giants and their "Earth, Wind and Fire" backfield led the NFL with 157.4 rushing yards per game. The 5-11, 228-pound Ward thus appears to be an outstanding complement for returning Buccaneer starter Earnest Graham, who had 563 yards in 10 games in 2009 before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury.
The speedy and shifty Ward was the "Wind" in that Giants trio, a constant big-play threat. That was never more evident than in New York's critical Week 16 victory over the Carolina Panthers, when he ran for a career-high 215 yards on just 15 carries.
Ward is 28 but has very little mileage on his NFL odometer, with just 342 career carries, more than half of those coming last season. He has played in 51 games over the past five seasons, starting eight in 2007 and 2008 combined. Ward first emerged as a part of the Giants' backfield rotation in 2007, when he ran for 602 yards on 125 carries, finishing second on the team and averaging 4.8 yards per tote.
Ward is also a proven return man, though he ran back just one kickoff for 21 yards in 2008. In fact, he first got his foot in the door with the Giants as a rookie in 2004 by taking over the kickoff return job and averaging 27.3 yards per runback on 16 tries, including a 92-yard return for a touchdown. His resume also includes 28 tackles on special teams, including 16 in 2005 to finish fifth among Giants players.
Ward entered the NFL that season as a seventh-round draft pick of the New York Jets. He opened the season on the Jets' practice squad but was plucked off that unit by the neighboring Giants and ended up playing in five games. He made the Giants' roster again in 2005 and saw his first action out of the backfield, rushing 35 times for 123 yards and catching two passes for 13 yards.
Foot injuries in training camp and in December limited Ward to eight games in 2006 and he spent most of his time returning kickoffs. He also missed the Giants' run to the Super Bowl title in 2007 after suffering a fractured fibula in December.
The Buccaneers had the NFL's 11th-ranked rushing attack in 2008, though it suffered in the second half of the season after injuries to Graham and fullbacks B.J. Askew and Byron Storer. Running back Cadillac Williams completed a grueling 14-month rehabilitation from a severe 2007 knee injury to re-emerge in December, only to injure his other knee in the season finale. Williams begins 2009 at the front end of another significant rehab process and is thus something of an unknown commodity for the upcoming season.