<
>

Jihad Ward looking to prove the 'haters' wrong

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Jihad Ward had a message for his "haters" two weeks ago on Twitter. In a Tweet he quickly deleted, Ward talked about shutting up those hating "clowns" by getting back on the field.

That happened Tuesday as the Oakland Raiders' second-year defensive lineman came off the physically unable to perform list and practiced for the first time since OTAs after a foot injury that needed surgery.

"That's just for everyone," Ward said of his Tweet. "People just hate."

So what, exactly, are they hating on?

"They're just trying to hate people trying to do what they have to do," said Ward, who has also taken to blocking reporters and fans from following him on Twitter. "Keep on pushing, that's all.

"There will be critics everywhere. People are going to hate regardless. People are going to hate on y'all doing this. It is what it is."

Ward was the Raiders' somewhat surprising second-round draft pick last year and was forced into a lot of action due to injuries. As in, he played in all 16 games and started 13.

The relative lack of production -- he did not have a sack among his 30 tackles, though he did recover a fumble -- might have invited said haters.

But the 6-foot-5, 295-pound Ward was having a strong offseason prior to the injury, and coach Jack Del Rio said he was expecting Ward to make a jump in his second season.

"We're excited about letting him compete and letting him show us what he can do," Del Rio said. "I know he's a big, strong, athletic guy.

"He's pretty strong. I thought he was more decisive in everything he did ... as a rookie, you learn the ropes, you learn the kind of things that are going to come up, and you're a little more comfortable in your own skin and what you're being asked to do within the scheme."

But while Del Rio acknowledged he was worried about "rust" inhibiting the progress he had been making, Ward dismissed the notion.

"Hell no," Ward said. "Nope. I'm still doing what I got to do, rehab-wise. Taking some mental reps in the D-line room. I can't sit on my ass all day so I have to do what I got to do. Other than that, I'm just chilling and getting ready. I'm happy to be out here."

And as his draft classmate Karl Joseph, the team’s starting strong safety, said in training camp, the game is slowing down.

"That's how it is," Ward said. "Your first year coming here, you're thinking too much. Now it's like, 'OK, I get it now.' That's how it is for all rookies.

"Everything is easier now ... it's regular."

In two preseason games, the Raiders defense has shown the same frustrating issues in not being able to get off the field while giving up chunk plays.

But with Ward now healthy and purportedly improved and Mario Edwards Jr., who missed 14 games last season, also good to go, Ward sees promise.

"If we do what we have to do, learn from our mistakes and keep moving, I think we are going to be a great defense," he said. "We have to do it together; there is no selfish acting. We all need each other. I think that's the problem with people, people have a habit of thinking one man can do it all.

"For instance, Khalil Mack. He's a good-ass player. He's the [NFL] defensive player of the year and all that, but he still needs us at the end of the day. He can't do it by himself. We're all we got, and that's all we need."

No, Ward was not hating on Mack. Far from it.