Hines Ward, still the best!
All the talk this offseason since the draft has been the acquisition of Limas Sweed & Rashard Mendenhall; and rightfully so. The addition of those 2 top players is going to pay big dividends for the Steeler offense this year. Since Jerome Bettis retired the Steelers have lacked a compliment back to Willie Parker and now they’ve got one in Mendenhall. In the last 2 years Hines has lost some playing time due to injuries either during the season or lingering through camp which left Santonio Holmes as the main target for Ben Roethlisberger in the passing game. Teams would be able to double cover Holmes and consequently the down field passing game would suffer. With Limas Sweed on the roster this will give the Steelers multiple options at Wide Receiver and keep secondary honest in their coverage. The main cog in all of this though is still Hines Ward. The 4 time pro bowler, Super Bowl MVP, and the guy now owns every significant record in team history for players at his position. Hines the do it all receiver in the game; he’s as sure handed as they come, a team player, and most definitely a guy who is not afraid to take a hit or dish one out.
Ward is one who sticks together with his teammates and even when things don't go as planned and his feathers get ruffled he'll always be at the side of this brothers on the field and that's something every player can emulate. He's human and he's not afraid to speak his mind like anyone else which was never more evident during his last contract hold out and most recently when his Quarterback stated that "he wanted a tall wide receiver". Ward countered those thoughts from Ben and they eventually made up. Of course his contract got done as well but never during those times or any others did he badmouth the team, the organization, it's players, the fans, or anybody.
Ask any Defensive Back in the NFL who the toughest Wide Receiver's are in the game today and Ward's name is always mentioned. A throw back player in the moder era of the NFL; Ward is one of the few players in the league today who could go back to the teams of the 60's and 70's and fit right in. His work ethic is second to none, his tenacity and attitude on the field is enough to warrant the respect he deserves. The next time you watch highlights of a 70's Steelers team or really any team from that era, just think back to how you see Ward play each week and in no time you'll see just how much of a blue collar, tough, player he really is.
When Ward is on the field everything in the playbook for Bruce Arians is available. Hines will draw double coverage, block for the ball carrier, take a reverse, and even play special teams if he has too. His records are well documented but the times when you realize the most how much Ward means to this team are the times he’s not on the field. Teams can all of the sudden shift coverage to Holmes and Heath Miller and concentrate on putting an extra guy in the box to stop the run. I like Nate Washington as much as anyone and this needs to be break out year for him but let’s face it as of now he doesn’t scare any defense enough to warrant double teams or a shadow during the game. The addition of Sweed will help make Nate better by pushing him to improve and be more consistent. Ward though is the cog still, even at 10 years in the league, that keeps this offense moving forward. When Ben needs to have a 3rd and 8, he looks to Hines. When you want a big play in traffic you know Hines will come down with it or die trying. The quintessential role model for any youth or college player, Ward is the guy that you want to emulate. Being drafted in the 3rd round and working his way up to a starting spot and a sure place in Canton after he retires is enough to make anybody notice Ward on the field but he’s more than that. He’s a humanitarian and a fan favorite. Ward enjoys being around the fans and always seems to make time for his black n gold faithful supporters. A man who is involved in the community both in Pittsburgh and abroad in his home country of Korea he’s as much of a role model off the field as he is on the field.
All in all for a guy like Hines Ward who has literally done it all in the NFL and is making sure he never forgets where he came from off the field, he’s still as important as ever to the offense. His injuries may take a little longer to heal than they used too, he may not need to bust his butt as hard in training camp as a rookie will but no one will ever mistake Ward for anything other than the best. Let’s face it, the main still wears a piece of tape on his helmet during camp with his name on it to help remind him of how hard it was to get this far in the NFL and how important it is to stay focused and never give up. If the Steelers are going to have the potential to make another championship run in the 2008 NFL season then Ward will most definitely be a part of that.