Defensive lineman Jihad Ward, who recently agreed to a one-year deal to return to the Ravens, says his first year in Baltimore was marked by the coaches’ ability to foster a fun, loose environment en route to a 14-2 season.
Ward originally signed with the Ravens Oct. 7 shortly after he was released by the Indianapolis Colts. After giving up 500-plus yards for the first time in team history against the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns in Weeks 3 and 4, respectively, the Ravens rebuilt their defense on the fly, with the signing of Ward one of several moves toward that end.
The 6-foot-5, 287-pound Ward played in 11 games, posting seven tackles, two fumble recoveries and one sack as part of the defensive line rotation. A free agent this offseason, Ward was looking for somewhere close to home – he’s a Philadelphia native — and a place where he felt comfortable. Baltimore checked both boxes.
“I just want to thank my brothers and my teammates for making me feel comfortable. When you go to certain teams, you don’t feel comfortable,” Ward said on Glenn Clark Radio March 27. “You’ve got to stay uncomfortable — this is business. But these coaches understand. They go players first. You don’t have a lot of teams that do that in this league. Everything about them is all about players. I thank God for that one. There’s not really teams out there that are on the players’ side.”
Ward, who turns 26 in May, was drafted in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders and spent the first two years of his career with them. He was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in April 2018, but never played a down for them; he was cut just before the season began. He was then signed to the Colts’ practice squad and was added to the active roster shortly thereafter.
Ward played six games with the Colts in 2018, racking up three sacks. But after three games with the Colts in 2019, he was let go. He was then one of several players the Ravens brought in to help turn the tide along with inside linebackers Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort, defensive linemen Domata Peko and Justin Ellis and cornerback Marcus Peters.
The Ravens’ midseason defensive makeover has been well-documented, but Ward says the family atmosphere was hugely beneficial as well.
“I’m going to ball out, I’m going to do what I have to do, but I’m going to have fun with this because a lot of people in this league – especially on defense, we realize you’ve got to enjoy every bit of this because one play can change your life,” Ward said. “So, with that being said, I mentioned brotherhood when we first came in here — we’re the mob. We always preached that we’re the mob. We’ve got each other’s backs, right or wrong, on the field.”
Ward says that brotherhood was created by head coach John Harbaugh and his staff. Harbaugh is 118-74 as the head coach of the Ravens and won his first Coach of the Year award in February.
“We just came out there with some swag. We had fun with this. We didn’t make it boring. I feel like Harbs is trying make everybody come together,” Ward said. “Yeah, I know it’s a business and it’s hard to keep everybody together.
“But at the same time, you still have a good group of men and we really just had fun out there. The coaches made it loose for us. So with that being said, when the coaches made it loose for us, we came out there with some swag. We’re some dogs. We’re the mob at the end of the day. We’re the mob.”
As much fun as the Ravens had in going 14-2, they didn’t have a whole lot of fun during the divisional round of the playoffs, when Baltimore lost, 28-12, to the Tennessee Titans. Running back Derrick Henry the ball 30 times for 195 yards and threw for a touchdown for good measure.
The Ravens aimed to beef up their run defense in free agency in March, trading for Calais Campbell and bringing back Ward and Ellis. They also agreed to terms with Michael Brockers, but the deal fell through, and the Ravens have reportedly turned to Derek Wolfe with a one-year deal. And before the start of free agency, they placed the franchise tag on outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who had a team-high 9.5 sacks in 2019.
Ward says the Ravens have a job to finish in 2020.
“We’re not making any excuses about it. We folded. [The Titans] came ready. We folded. At the end of the day, let’s build from it from last year,” Ward said. “Let’s have that fuel, because I really feel like deep down in my soul that everybody thinks we’re going to be comfortable from last year. My goal is I don’t want that to happen. … I’m never comfortable so I’m ready for everything. A lot of people think we’re going to be comfortable but it’s OK. I want them to feel that way.”
For more from Ward, listen to the full interview here:
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