Pictures of some of the Panthers' top players.
After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' last-minute, 30-27 loss in Buffalo last Sunday, veteran safety T.J. Ward expressed some displeasure in this playing time. Ward, who was released by the Broncos and signed by the Buccaneers right before the start of the season, has been part of a four-man rotation for the two safety spots, though he also missed two games with a hip injury.
Asked about Ward's comments on Monday, Head Coach Dirk Koetter noted that, during a losing streak, such things are generally the product of frustration, and not overly surprising. Koetter also suggested a more effective way for Ward to address such a concern.
"I talked to the players [Monday] about anybody that is frustrated or has an issue – the best way to take care of an issue on a team is to go to someone who can do something about it," said Koetter. "Then I outlined who those people were."
A look at the Panthers' projected starters, according to the team's website.
Ward, three days removed from a bitterly disappointed locker room in Buffalo, agrees. He remains eager to be on the field as much as possible but is focused on working together for a common goal.
"I should have kept a lot of my thoughts to myself, but I've been in this league eight years, I'm a fiery person and I wear my emotions on my sleeve," said Ward. "This is all brand-new to me, it's a new situation and a new team, and I'm just trying to take it as it comes, trying to handle it as it goes. My teammates, they know it's nothing malicious. My coaches know it's nothing malicious. I'm just a competitive guy. I said what I said. The facts – do I want to be out there all the time? Yes – those still remain. But there's completely another way to handle it and I should know better."
Ward spent his first four NFL seasons (2010-13) in Cleveland, ending up in the Pro Bowl in his final campaign as a Brown. He signed with Denver in 2014 and went to two more Pro Bowls over three years. He was considered a critical part of the 2015 Broncos defense that propelled that team to a Super Bowl championship. Heading into 2017, Denver chose to go with young safety Justin Simmons and Ward was surprised to find himself released. He quickly landed in Tampa, where the Bucs had high hopes in 2017 after a 9-7 finish the year before and a second-half surge by the defense.
However, the Buccaneers' defense has struggled mightily, much as it did in the first half of last season and the team has dropped three in a row. Ward has personally dealt with injuries during the preseason in Denver and for a few of his weeks in Tampa. Koetter suggested that has played a role in what was expected to be Ward's gradual absorption into a bigger role on defense.
That very well could still happen, as could the type of significant turnaround for the defense that happened a year ago. Ward may have let some of his frustration slip out, but he still believes the team he joined in early September has the pieces necessary to field a great defense.
"We're good enough to get it done," said Ward. "We're good enough to be a top defense in this league. We've just got to put everything towards that and don't focus on other things, the little stuff. We've just got to focus on being our best.
"We've just got to play better individually and we'll play better as a unit. I think situationally we can be more aware of things that are going on, as players, to help us pull those close wins out. We've all got to be on the same page. We're working together and we have to have the same vision."