RB Derrick Ward was part of the league's most prolific backfield in 2008, and he's hoping the same is true in 2009
Derrick Ward and Brandon Jacobs used to be teammates, with a common goal. They were two-thirds of a rushing attack for the New York Giants good enough to lead the league and come away with one of those rare nicknames that becomes part of the common NFL lexicon, like "Thunder and Lightning" or "Smash and Dash."
Along with Ahmad Bradshaw, they were "Earth, Wind and Fire," referential, elemental and totally unforgettable. The nickname was Ward's idea, his lasting gift to his teammates.
It proved to be a going-away present. The Giants committed big to Jacobs in the 2009 offseason and Ward took advantage of his free-agent status to head to Tampa, where the Buccaneers were eager to build their own deep and talented offensive backfield. Everyone came out a winner; Jacobs remains a key cog in the league's sixth-ranked offense and Ward has helped power the NFL's fourth-best attack.
So there will be no hard feelings when the Buccaneers and Giants collide at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday afternoon, even if the experience is a little unusual for Ward.
"It's going to be strange to go up against Osi [Umenyiora] and [Justin] Tuck and Fred Robbins and all those guys, but it's football," he said. "It's the NFL. People change teams every year. I'm just happy to be here and I'll be even happier to get this first win out of the way.
Ward said he speaks with Jacobs almost every day, and their tone is generally good-natured ribbing. Jacobs probably has the upper hand in that endeavor at the moment, given that the Giants are 2-0 and Ward's new team is 0-2. The Bucs need a win badly and Ward would have no problem disappointing his former teammates.
"Once game time comes it's for real," he said. "They're my enemy when it comes to Sunday. Before the game and after the game, they're like my brothers, but when Sunday comes these are my brothers here in this locker room. I'm ready to go to war with them.
"Once the game starts, it's flying bullets so I can't really think about the sentimental part of it. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about that or I won't think about that after the game. But during the game it's the Bucs versus the Giants and I'm a Tampa Bay Buccaneer and I'm going to try to help this team get its first victory out of the way."
Ward doesn't think his years with the Giants will be overly helpful in helping the Buccaneers form their game plan. He knows his former team has probably altered its play calls, or perhaps gone with a whole new vocabulary altogether. The Bucs won't get away with any less game-planning this week just because they've got a former Giant on-board.
"I know what happened last year, I know what calls we had last year," said Ward. "They could have tweaked their stuff or gone with a whole different set of calls on offense. I really don't know. This is football. We've got to adjust to what they're going to do and they've got to adjust to what we're going to do and go from there."
Ward knows better than any of his teammates the depth of the challenge they're about to face. The Giants currently rank 16th in the NFL in overall defense, but Ward is not alone in believing that New York's "D" is much better than that ranking indicates.
"They're looking at film on us, we're looking at film on them," he said. "We're putting in a lot of extra hours this week on their defense; they have one of the best defenses in the league. It's going to be a tough task for us to run the ball or pass the ball, but we'll find a way."