Hines Ward is just nine receptions shy of becoming the eighth player in NFL history to reach 1,000 catches. However, Ward would be the first to put the team's goals ahead of his own personal achievements. Anyone who has watched him play for the past 14 seasons could tell you that.
Hines played much of his early career on a run-first Steelers offense. Yet, he has managed to become the Steelers' leading receiver in every measurable statistical category, surpassing Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth in the process.
Keeping with his team-first work ethic, Ward has been known for his punishing run-blocking skills. He has earned a reputation as the best blocking receiver in the league. If the offense misses him in no other area, it can certainly use him to pave the way for Mendenhall.
Many critics of Ward have said that he is too old and too slow. The Steelers have young receivers like Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders who are faster than Ward. It is true that Hines was not having his most prolific season before he was hurt and subsequently demoted on the depth chart. However, one needs to look no further than Mike Wallace's recent stats, or lack thereof, to see the effects of Ward's demotion. Wallace has not had many impressive outings since Hines lost his starting role.
Hines Ward was never a burner. He is a possession receiver, and no one fulfills that role better than him. He often draws the attention of the safeties on crossing routes that allowed Wallace to see one-on-one coverage on fly routes. As impressive as Antonio Brown has been, he can not open up the field for Wallace like Hines can.
Another example of how sorely the Steelers offense misses Ward is Pittsburgh's 20-3 loss to the 49ers on Monday Night Football. Roethlisberger and the Steelers were having a hard time pushing the ball down the field on longer passing routes. This is exactly the type of situation in which Hines thrives. He can make the tough catches across the middle. However, he only saw nine snaps all game and did not receive a single target. Hines may not be the receiver he used to be, but he can be much more productive if given the chance.
Many sportswriters have suggested that today's game against the Rams could be Hines Ward's last game at Heinz Field as a Pittsburgh Steeler. If this is true, it's a travesty. No player on the roster has given his heart and soul to the Steelers more than Hines Ward has. He still has all the tools to be an effective receiver. With two years left on his contract, the only way he shouldn't be on the roster next season is if he decides to retire. However, Ward has said he feels like he can play a couple more seasons and has no plans to retire.
If the Steelers want to demote or cut someone from the team, perhaps they should look to the man who demoted Hines, Bruce Arians.