Ward needs 9 more yards to hit 12K for his career
The player most affected by the tectonic shift that took place the last time the Steelers played the Bengals is still saying all of the right things.
The one thing Hines Ward couldn't say Wednesday afternoon is what his role will be Sunday when the Bengals visit Heinz Field.
That question has become complicated for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the depth that the Steelers have at wide receiver and the exalted status that Ward has long enjoyed.
The reality is that Ward has had to accept a reduced role since wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery told him three weeks ago that the Steelers wanted to get others more involved in the passing game.
Ward played just nine snaps in Cincinnati, and he caught one pass for 10 yards. Ward started last Sunday night in Kansas City, but he logged just 16 snaps and caught four passes for 21 yards.
"I didn't ask why or if I was playing bad or the reason behind it. I've never once questioned a coach(ing) decision, how they run game plans," Ward said following practice yesterday. "That's all that was told me that we want to get other guys the ball. They don't owe me anything. I just try to go out and bust my tail and continue being the same player. I think you guys wanted it to be about me, but it's not about me. I'm a team guy."
That is not to say that Ward is just any player.
He owns almost every Steelers receiving record of note. Ward is also a former Super Bowl MVP and one of the most popular players in team history.
Adding to the intrigue of Ward's situation is his pursuit of twin milestones: 1,000 career receptions and 12,000 receiving yards.
He is a lock to reach the latter, barring injury, but Ward is cutting it close when it comes to the former.
The 14th-year veteran needs 15 catches in the final five games to become just the eighth player in NFL history with at least 1,000 career receptions.
"I know that's a big goal, and I won't stop until I reach that goal," said Ward, who is 35 and in the next-to-last year of his contract.
What has slowed down Ward's pursuit of that goal is the way in which the Steelers are using their wide receivers.
They are legitimately five deep at the position, and Ward said he can't remember the Steelers using as many different groupings at wide receiver as they have this season.
Keeping all of the wideouts involved in the passing game is a challenge for everybody involved with the offense, including Ben Roethlisberger.
"I think it's a great problem to have," the Steelers quarterback said. "I'll spread it around as much as I can, but I tell those guys that it's about winning. It's not about making receivers happy by catching balls."
Ward said he is fine with that.
"It's not about me," Ward said. "I know with the record coming up, and I've been in the starting role for so many years, and all of the sudden, it just hits. It's a story. I'm not trying to make it a story. Roles have changed, and I've accepted it and moved on."
One thing that Ward hasn't accepted is the notion that age has finally corralled him.
"As far as me losing a step, I never had a step," Ward said with a laugh. "I have all the confidence in the world I can make plays. People outside of this locker room, they probably lost confidence in me. I can't control that."