Jihad Ward had an up-and-down rookie season. Now it appears he may have to fight through a rough start to Year 2.
Ward, a defensive lineman from Illinois taken by Oakland in the second round of the 2016 draft, recently posted social-media photos of himself in a hospital after he apparently had surgery on his left foot.
Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported Ward had “minor foot surgery.” Added Rappoport: “Sources say he’ll be ready for camp by mid-August on a cautious timetable. No rush.”
The Raiders are due to report to training camp July 27. The Raiders’ first exhibition game is Aug. 12 vs. the Cardinals.
According to Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Ward suffered the injury in a practice session on June 6. He didn’t participate in any practices after that date. Gehlken noted it’s unclear when Ward will be able to resume full activities, and may have to be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform List at the start of training camp.
If so, Ward will start his 2017 season behind a cast of defensive linemen in what should be a competitive camp – and after a rookie season in which he gave the Raiders some good and bad moments.
On the plus side, Ward played 16 games and started 13, so he got plenty of snaps and experience. Yet he didn’t have a single sack and was in on just 30 tackles. Plus, the analytic website Pro Football Focus graded him the worst of all interior defenders. He ranked second-to-last against the run and third-to-last among pass rushers.
He came into the NFL with a reputation of having the physical tools to be good, but with raw tools.
Yet defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. remained positive about Ward’s growth late in the season.
“He’s always hustling, plays really hard, in meetings early, asking for extra help,” Norton said in December. “He’s durable. He’s playing every play. He’s here every day, shows up all the time. Extremely happy with his development.”
General manager Reggie McKenzie last season acknowledged Ward struggled, but believes in him.
“From a consistency standpoint, he is all over the place,” McKenzie told the San Francisco Chronicle. “But we feel good about letting him work through it.”
Getting a slow start in this year’s training camp certainly won’t help.