It seems a lifetime ago, Greg Ward admits, when he was a college quarterback at the University of Houston who was as deadly as any in the land: In 2015-16, only Ward and Deshaun Watson produced 6,000-plus passing yards and 1,500-plus rushing yards.
The dreams of being an NFL quarterback ended for Ward when he signed with the Eagles as an undrafted rookie in 2017 and since then, he's been working on his craft as a wide receiver.
Ward's Eagles' career has been about persistence, resiliency, leadership. He has been on the active roster and has had moments of glory – how about that game-winning touchdown catch to beat Washington at FedEx Field in December 2019, beating star cornerback Josh Norman? – and he has had times when digging deep and ignoring the pain was the only thing that kept him going.
Ward has played in 40 NFL games with 13 starts since signing with the Eagles in '17, catching 88 passes for 768 yards and 10 touchdowns. Ward led the Eagles in 2020 with 53 receptions and 6 touchdown catches, but since then he's had just 7 receptions for 95 yards and 3 touchdowns, all in the 2021 campaign.
Still, Ward is still chasing his dream. Regarded as an important piece in the 2022 Super Bowl run as a member of the team's practice squad, Ward was elevated (but inactive on gameday) to the 53-man roster for the February 12 Super Bowl LVII loss to Kansas City and now he's on the practice field every day in Training Camp looking to make the 53-man roster. He has been consistent throughout camp and he shined in the team's 20-19 preseason-opening loss at Baltimore, producing 5 catches for 53 yards on five targets.
The grind continues.
The dream stays alive.
"That means everything," Ward said as the Eagles prepare for their second preseason game on Thursday against the Cleveland Browns (7:30 PM, NBC10 locally) at Lincoln Financial Field. "I haven't played in about a year and a half and, man, I'm just truly blessed to be out here and I'm thankful to the organization for allowing me to be here and to touch the field. I'm grateful for that."
The best of the best from Monday's joint practice with the Cleveland Browns.
Ward said he has "made a lot of mental progress" in the last year or so to improve his game. Taking scout-team reps at practice and working on the fundamentals and in the developmental period at practices help, sure, but the game reps are what really matters and those have been non-existent save those in the preseason – Ward missed the 2022 preseason with a toe injury, went on Injured Reserve in late August, and then joined the practice squad in late October.
Now, Ward is trying to make this 53-man roster in one of the best wide receiver rooms the Eagles have ever had, headed by A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. Ward has made plays throughout Training Camp and stepped it up in Baltimore, but he knows there is no letdown allowed.
"My approach is to get better every single day," he said. "I don't care about anything else. All I care about is progress, my teammates, and getting better. I think I'm on the right path. I have a long way to go, but I'm on the right path, so I'm just going to stay there and continue to get better."
The NFL's practice squad rules have changed through the years, and now teams are permitted to carry up to 16 players and a max of six players can be veterans with no limit to the number of years on the practice squad, as Ward would be considered. So, the long and short of it is that if Ward doesn't make the 53-man roster, he would be eligible to stay with the team on the practice squad.
But he isn't thinking about what could be when the roster is reduced to 53 players on August 29. He is keeping "the main thing, the main thing," he said, and staying honed in on what is right in front of him. Tuesday was the second day of joint practices with Cleveland, and the preseason game on Thursday against the Browns is another chance to show what he can do – not only to the Eagles but to every team in the league.
Every moment is important and every rep matters for Ward.
"These are very important. Every single practice, every single day you step out here, you've got to put your best foot forward," he said. "Every play, every single rep is an evaluation, so everything is important."
This is another year and another Greg Ward bid to make the team and contribute. Ward is putting his best game forward every day, hoping to prove to the coaching staff and the front office just how valuable he is and how much his persistence, resiliency, and leadership mean to the Eagles.