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Can Derrick Ward be relevant to the Buccaneers' offense in 2010?

Throughout this offseason I have heard many people discuss Josh Freeman. I have heard quite a few discuss the future of Cadillac Williams, but I haven't heard too many discuss the future of Derrick Ward. In case you have forgotten, Ward was one the marquee free agents signed by rookie GM Mark Dominik in 2009. He was signed to a fairly large contract (four years for $17M), especially for a 29 year old running back. Although Ward was relatively unknown before 2008, excitement was running high in the preseason. Ward had, after all, just completed a magnificent season with the New York Giants in which he had accumulated over 1000 yards in just 182 carries. He was going to be "the guy" in 2009.

Little did we know that Ward would sink into the background throughout the season. We had no way of knowing that Caddy, coming off a 2nd major knee surgery, would emerge and look like the Caddy of old. We had no way of knowing that OC Greg Olson would shy away from consistently running the ball. We had no way of knowing that Derrick Ward would simply fail to show up on the football field last year.

What are the reasons for this curious disappearance? Read more after the jump as we delve deeper into this issue and hopefully come up with some realistic expectations for Ward in 2010.

First, let's take a deeper look into the numbers:

Career Stats Rushing Receiving Fumbles
Season Team G Rush Yds Y/G Avg TD Rec Yds Y/G Avg Lng YAC 1stD TD Fum FumL
2005-06 NY Giants 14 35 123 8.8 3.5 0 2 13 0.9 6.5 8 9.5 0 0 0 0
2007-08 NY Giants 8 125 602 75.3 4.8 3 26 179 22.4 6.9 17 7.3 7 1 2 1
2008-09 NY Giants 16 182 1025 64.1 5.6 2 41 384 24.0 9.4 48 10.4 14 0 2 0
2009-10 Tampa Bay 14 114 409 29.2 3.6 1 20 150 10.7 7.5 38 7.1 7 2 0 0
Career 52 456 2159 41.5 4.7 6 89 726 14.0 8.2 48 8.7 28 3 4 1

So, we can clearly see that Ward's numbers plummeted in 2009. Ward's 2008 season with the NYG was spectacular not only because he racked up an incredible 5.6 yards per carry, but he also caught 41 passes for a nearly more impressive 9.4 yards per catch. Ward's production in 2009 was not even half of what he accomplished in 2008. Although Ward only carried the ball 182 times in his 1,025 yard season with the NYG, Olson decided to cut even that number down in 2009. Ward carried the ball only 114 times last year, and averaged exactly two yards less per carry. That difference is staggering.

Say what you will about the Buccaneer offensive line compared to that of the New York Giants. Obviously they are much different. Say what you will about the failed zone blocking scheme, the lose and then gain weight situation, and Olson's lack of commitment to the run, but can all those things really explain away 2.0 YPC differential in a player when he has carried the ball over 100 times?

In my opinion, Ward benefited immensely from the presence of Brandon Jacobs during his time with New York. Jacobs was a bruising back, and the defense was most likely caught off guard by Ward's change of pace when he entered the games. This can account for Ward's monstrous year in 2008, but even though his numbers were probably inflated, this still doesn't fully explain his lack of production in 2009.

My best guess is that Ward simply became a little too complacent last year. He arrived and thought he would be the guy, but his big paycheck that he had worked so hard for probably didn't help his off the field work regimen. He most likely didn't think that he had much of a threat in Caddy, but once Cadillac started playing well and the talent differential was evident, I think he gave up a little bit. After all, there is a reason that Caddy was the #5 overall draft choice out of Auburn and Ward was a 7th round selection out of Ottawa.

If Ward has anything going for him going into 2010, it's his ability to catch the ball. Although Olson didn't show much confidence in handing Ward the rock in 2009, he did make him a player in the receiving game to the tune of 20 catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns. This is really the only role I can see Ward playing this season barring any injury to Caddy (knock on wood). He is not the ideal 3rd down back, but barring the unlikely rise of Kareem Huggins or Clifton Smith suddenly gaining the ability to hold on to the football, it seems that this is the role he will play.

Should a running back making $4.25M per season be relegated to a 3rd down back? Absolutely not. It may not be the biggest running back contract in the NFL, but it is certainly starter money. So, is there a chance that Derrick Ward could find himself on the waiver wire this season? Is it too early to call it quits on him? Weigh in below in the comments section and let the world know what you think.