Ward, a third-round draft choice in 1998, has climbed the ranks throughout his career. He established himself as a receiver early in his career, and then outlasted three first-round draft picks at the position.
Never the most physically gifted athlete on the field, Ward did things with hard work and the results paid off with two Super Bowl championships, including one Super Bowl MVP award.
Without the physical abilities of some of the other receivers in the league, Ward had to do things different.
There was no better blocker in the league, and he was also a pretty good route runner. In a primarily run oriented offense, Ward put up monster numbers, including six 1,000-yard seasons and is now approaching a couple of significant milestones.
In his 14th season, Ward has 981 receptions and 11,970 yards. But at the rate he is going, will Ward even have an opportunity to reach 1,000 receptions and 12,000 yards?
Ward has been dinged up this season and did not start last week.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the team,” Ward said. “We won the game that’s the bottom line.”
Where is Hines Ward on your Steelers depth chart?
That isn’t the attitude that made the Steelers want to keep Ward over Troy Edwards, Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes.
"I feel like I'm still getting to my spots. I still think of myself as being a playmaker."
That is more like it.
But it is no secret, the time is coming to an end with Ward, and he recognizes this fact.
"Mike [Wallace] is a rising superstar and Antonio [Brown] has a great rapport with Ben," Ward said.
Ward’s lack of athletic ability has finally succumbed to pure talent.
There is no faster player in the AFC than Wallace, and Brown has shot up the depth chart and developed into one of the top playmakers for the Steelers.
Once Emmanuel Sanders gets healthy, Ward could be buried even deeper on the depth chart, especially considering Jerricho Cotchery is finally getting comfortable with the offense.
Whether or not Ward accepts that remains to be seen, but he has made it clear that the team comes first.
“It’s different. It’s a different role. I am still going to be the biggest cheerleader because I want to win,” Ward said. “Whatever I can do to help this team win ball games, giving advice or when my number is called making a play. Just continue doing that and have a positive attitude.”
Ward’s playing time has been reduced and Mike Tomlin has to get credit for doing so. At this juncture of the season, Wallace and Brown are better options. Sanders could be a better option, too. They are tougher matchups for opposing defenses.
However, we should not write off Ward just yet. He is one player that can thrive on adversity. When someone tells him he can’t, Ward does.
There are certainly big plays left in Ward’s body. There are touchdown grabs over the middle of the field left in him. All he needs is the opportunity.
The end is near for Ward, just not quite yet. He still has something left in his tank.
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