TAMPA – Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward has only been through three practices with the Buccaneers since signing on with them 13 days ago, so he still doesn’t have a feel for the finer details of their defense.
As a result, Ward says he was playing mostly on instinct during the handful of plays he got into during the Bucs 29-7 victory over the Bears on Sunday. In doing so, though, he proved that those instincts of his are still razor sharp.
Though he spent most of the game watching from the sidelines, Ward made an impact nonetheless as he chipped in with a key tackle for loss and a pass breakup in the end zone during the Bucs opening-day victory.
The tackle for loss came on Ward’s second play of the game when he sniffed out a sweep to his left and dropped Bears rookie running back Tarik Cohen for a three-yard loss late in the second quarter.
The pass breakup came late in the fourth quarter when he got his hands on a Mike Glennon pass for Deonte Thompson and tipped the ball toward the back of the end zone.
“Yeah, I could have had shutout-saving pick there,’’ Ward lamented afterward, noting that the Bears scored their only touchdown of the game two plays later. “But it was a pretty good day.’’
Especially for a player who admits he still has only “a general knowledge’’ of the defensive scheme he’s playing in after suddenly being let go by the Broncos three weeks ago.
Though it was rather well known that the Broncos were shopping Ward, the veteran said it still came as a shock that he was let go. He said he’s already starting to feel comfortable in Tampa and the feeling is mutual.
Safety was one of the spots the Bucs attempted to fortify during the offseason, when they signed former Cowboy and now Steeler J.J. Wilcox in free agency and drafted Justin Evans in the second round.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter admitted, though, that it was the signing of Ward, who is playing behind starters Chris Conte and Keith Tandy for now, that finally gave the Bucs what they were looking for at that spot.
“We went from not being deep at safety to being really deep at safety,’’ Koetter said. “We have Chris and Keith, who we think are doing a really nice job as the starters and we have Justin Evans who’s coming up through the ranks, so safety has become a strength for us now.’’