Every rep is important for Eagles wide receiver Greg Ward, so he greedily gobbled up as many as he could get during the weekend's Rookie Minicamp. Ward is not a rookie, having spent 2017 on the team's practice squad, but he's as hungry as one and he knows he's still chasing the elusive perfection.
Signed as an undrafted rookie a year ago after a brilliant four-year career at the University of Houston first as a receiver but primarily as a quarterback, Ward has made steady progress.
"My level of comfort is way better than it was last year and I feel I'm a lot better than last year," Ward said during the weekend. "I've put in a lot of hard work in and I'm going to continue to do all the extra work – on the field, catching the football after practice, working on my routes and my release, things like that. I'm always trying to become a better receiver."
Ward did just that after practice over the weekend, as he does after every day of work. He worked on his steps in a short area. He spent time catching passes. He went over and caught tennis balls fired at him. And then he took off his helmet and breathed it all in.
After his time at Houston, Ward knew that his only path to the NFL was at wide receiver. Although he accounted for 11,080 total yards, including 8,705 passing yards, and 52 touchdown passes with the Cougars, Ward wasn't facing a quarterback-or-wide receiver decision at the highest level of football. At about 5-11 and 180 pounds then (he's up to around 190 now), Ward chose wide receiver.
"I knew I wasn't going to pass the eye-candy test for quarterback," he said.
After signing with the Eagles, Ward impressed last spring and summer with his transition. He had nine receptions for 63 yards in the preseason and then spent the entire regular season and postseason on the practice squad.
"He's someone who gets better every day," then-wide receivers coach Mike Groh said of Ward. "He's not as experienced at the position, obviously, but he's a fast learner and a hard worker. Greg has come a long way and he knows he has a lot more to work on to develop his game. It comes naturally to him. He's got instincts and he's a great athlete who catches the ball well."
A year later, Ward is far more advanced. He's picked up some of the nuances of the game – the release, the subtle movements used to create separation, the precision in the routes he runs. He wants to "be on top of every single detail. All of those little things add up to big plays."
The Eagles have a crowded picture at wide receiver and we'll see how all of that plays out. Ward took exactly zero time off after the Eagles won the Super Bowl and now he's back at the NovaCare Complex working hard, trying to cut through the talented crowd. Having practiced every day for a season against the Eagles' defensive backs paid off for Ward, who is prepared to make his push.
"I was right back at it after the season," he said. "I didn't play in any games, so it wasn't like I needed to rest my body. The way I see it, I can't get enough work in. I have so much to work on. I want to play. Last year was the first time I didn't play and it was hard. I'm a competitor, but I was also humbled and thankful to be on a Super Bowl team. A lot of guys were home not playing. I'm going to be patient and I'm going to take advantage when it's my time. The way I see it, now is my time. I have to take advantage of this time."
The work continues for Ward, the wide receiver. Anyone who remembers Ward as a dual-threat quarterback at Houston, savor the memories. He was dynamic with the football in his hands in every way. The Eagles saw that talent and worked him out as a wide receiver prior to the 2017 draft and hoped he could transition. He did just that.
Now it's time for the next step.
"My focus is on what I'm doing today. It's a day-by-day thing," he said. "I'm a wide receiver and I'm getting better every day. I'm a lot stronger than I was before, I'm a much better player than I was and at the same time I know I want to be one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. That's my goal. That's what I'm working on every day."