Heading into his 13th season in the NFL, there’s more pressure than ever on future Hall of Famer Hines Ward to deliver for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Thanks to the trade of Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets plus the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger for four to six games to begin the year, the onus will be on Ward to again be productive and keep the ship afloat as the Steelers try to bounce back from a disappointing 9-7 season a year ago.
Ward joined 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh to talk about how he’s feeling physically with his 13th season just around the corner, his thoughts on the team’s young wide receiver corps now that Holmes has been jettisoned out of town, what he thinks of Mike Wallace and his potential to fill Holmes’ shoes, how it was good to see Roethlisberger at his golf event last week, how he and the rest of the Steelers still support Big Ben, the offense’s attempts at becoming more balanced this upcoming season, and what he thinks of the two quarterbacks (Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon) that are competing for the starting nod in Ben’s absence.
On how he’s feeling physically heading into his 13th season in the league:
“Physically I’m feeling fine, my hamstring’s a little sore just because I ran a route and the grass gave out on me. But I’ll be fine. The way I work out and way I take care of my body all year long…you know, am I faster than I was when I first came in the league? No. But it’s all about route running. If I just stay on top of my game as far as route running, then I’ll be fine.”
On the loss of Santonio Holmes and on what he thinks of the team’s wide receiver corps:
“We’ll be fine. There’s no question when you lose a guy of Santonio’s ability and stuff like that, it definitely hurts the depth of our wide receivers corps. But Mike’s coming along; Mike’s still young. Yes, he had an outstanding rookie year but now he’s getting an opportunity to get in the starting lineup and that ball game’s a whole different ball game than coming in as a wide receiver. I mean, Randle El, having him back, we won a Super Bowl together so he’s still familiar with some of the offense. Then we have some other guys that are battling to make the fourth and five spot but all in all, my job is to make sure I’m on top of my game, helping Mike and Antwaan have a better understanding of our offense, and really all the guys. Because it’s going to take depth at the position in case myself or someone else goes down, we need guys to step in and know their roles.”
On his thoughts of Holmes’ off field troubles and on if he tried to warn him that his days may be numbered in Pittsburgh if he didn’t get his act together:
“It was disappointing. I tried to reach out to him to be more of a friend than a teammate. You know, he’s just a great young talent and there’s so many things that he does off the field, he’s his own man. I can’t hold his hand and tell him who to be and what not to do. But hopefully he learns from it. I would have loved to go out with him and have another great year like we did last year. But that’s not the case; he got suspended for four games, he’s on to the New York Jets, and hopefully he can get back on track and continue to be a great ball player, but just learn from his mistakes so he can become a better person.”
On who he would double team on the Steelers in a big moment if he were an opposing defensive coordinator:
“Of course they going to take away Hines, myself, on 3rd downs and crucial situations, but that’s where Mike’s got to step up and play well. Whoever the third and fourth guys are, they’re going to have to step up and play well. But right now, we’re just young, and right now, my job is just to make sure our guys are mentally prepared and know all the little things about route running and stuff like that to get open. And if I can help their transition, progression coming along as a starting wideout in the NFL, then that’s my job. But I think Mike’s going to grow. You can’t teach speed, but at the same time, you can’t just run the go ball every time. He’s got to run some other routes and make some explosive plays and plus, he’s not going against third cornerbacks anymore. He’s going against top, premier cornerbacks week in and week out around the league. So that’s a big adjustment that he’s going to have to learn and we’ll see. So he’s going to get some opportunities this year. And then Randle El and Arnez Battle and all the other guys, my job is to help them grow and better understand the offense so we can all go out and compliment each other.”
On if he’s spent much time with or talked much with Ben Roethlisberger since his suspension:
“He came and showed up at my golf outing on Monday and i think that was a nice start just to get on the right track. We as teammates understand it is what it is. There’s nothing we can do about the suspension, but I think on the way back on recovering and trying to get back on the right track, he needs to be around his teammates. And that was the first sign of him showing back. He didn’t have to come out to my event, it was rainy cold and he showed up and stayed through it and actually played all 18 holes. So I was happy he came. Was I shocked? No. Because you can’t sit home and stay cooped up in your house worrying about stuff. And we as brothers and football players, we’re amongst each other, this is kind of our safe haven to get away from things and all the other ordeals that goes on outside of football. But it was great to see him back, we’re going to welcome him whenever his suspension is up and he’s going to come out and help whoever is at the quarterback position mentally so we can go out and try to do the best we can without him.”
On if the Steelers seem to be serious about running the ball more in 2010 based on preliminary OTA sessions:
“Yeah you can see. We’re doing more two-back things, doing more things with two running backs but all in all, like I said, we had a 4,000 yard passer, two 1,000 yard receivers, a 1,000 yard running back and we were out of the playoffs. So I’m not really big on stats anymore. Some people, you know, you need to have a 1,000 yards or you need to catch….In the years we won the Super Bowl I don’t think we had a 90 pass catcher, or I think I barely went over 1,000 the first time, or 975. You know, I don’t get caught up in that. We don’t get caught up in who’s number one, or do we have that deep threat, it’s all a team game. I think if we’re balanced, we’re a deadly team. If you mix the balance part of it where we’re able to run with the pass and our great defense, then we’re going to compliment each other and we look to put up some huge wins this year. But sometimes when you get one-dimensional, it puts a lot of pressure, or you shy away from the run game, then you put a lot of pressure on the defense. Because we’re out there a lot more slinging it around. So it’s great for fantasy football players and people who play the fantasy football leagues, but for us, we’re getting back to the things we’ve had success on, and that starts with being a more balanced team. And I think if we do that, we’ll be fine.”