Jay Ward ready to show his versatility in LSU secondary
The LSU’s No Fly Zone has been protected by a Royal Guardsmen troop of players who commonly referred to themselves as members of DBU.
Translation: LSU is known for having talented players in the secondary who eventually make their marks in pro football. Thus, the requirements to play a role with the group require applicants to meet high demands.
The Tigers have had 17 defensive backs chosen in the past 10 NFL Drafts with seven going in rounds one or two.
To man a spot in the LSU secondary is similar to selection in the Swiss Army Guards, the Pope’s personal protectors. You protect your turf at all costs.
Okay, enough with the analogies.
Jay Ward is a junior defensive back at LSU. He arrived from Moultrie, Georgia as a three-star prospect in the 2019 class, fielding offers from LSU, Kentucky, Florida State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Indiana, Iowa State, UCF and Marshall.
After pledging to Kentucky in June ’18, Ward back peddled in November 2018 and eventually signed with LSU.
Ward reminds me a great deal of former LSU star Tory James (1992-’95), who went on to play 11 seasons in the NFL and win a pair of Super Bowls. Ward played cornerback during his first two seasons and seems to have adapted well to his move to safety. James made a similar transformation.
Already comfortable in his new spot, Ward had an impressive spring. He has a knack for locating the ball quickly, with tremendous hand/eye coordination and an explosive burst to the football.
“Coach O talked to me. He told me that I might get a few reps at safety. I just want to help the team. Put the team in the best position to win. Put the best eleven on defense. Transition has not been hard at all,” Ward explained.
Easy enough, in fact, that Ward is hungry to master all aspects of the position.
“Right now I’m playing free safety. I’m going to try to learn strong safety. Right now I know cornerback, nickel and free. I want to be able to play all positions on the field.”
Plus, the 6-foot-1, 178 pounder embraces the chance to mix it up a little more.
“I get to be more physical. I can come down and show how hard I can hit,” Ward noted. “I also get to cover one-on-one with the skill guys. So it’s a mixture, plus I get to blitz. I’m loving it so far.”
Part of that overall development involves getting bigger and stronger with Ward targeting 185 pounds as a playing weight for 2021. His versatility will pay dividends down the road.
“This will benefit me because when I do get drafted, I can play nickel, corner and safety and it will help me get on the field faster at any position.”
The new defensive staff including coordinator Daronte Jones views him as a playmaker.
“The transition hasn’t been hard for me at all,” said Ward. “Just have to study more and study more with the coaches. Coach Jones preaches a lot about turnovers and that’s what I’m all about. I want to get my hands on the ball and try to go score. Coach Jones always talks about (players) he coached, like Reshard Jones. I turn on the tape and watch him.”
No relation to the Tigers assistant, Jones was a 10-year NFL veteran, recording 776 tackles and 21 interceptions with six returns for touchdowns. He was also a two-time Pro Bowler. The coach Jones worked with the player Jones while both were with the Miami Dolphins.
“I watch (Reshard Jones) the most because he can be used at nickel or safety,” Ward explained. “He can come downhill and hit you. He creates turnovers. That’s what I’m all about.”
Ward made two of the biggest game-changing plays for LSU in 2020.
When the Tigers scored a December upset win at Florida, 37-34, Ward tallied eight tackles but made the biggest mark when a pass was batted up in the air late in the first half. He came down with it after returning from out of bounds, re-establishing himself in the field of play to secure the interception while on his knees.
Against Arkansas before that, he blocked a 44-yard kick by the Razorbacks to securing a 27-24 win for LSU with 1:20 remaining.
Ward brings experience into the upcoming season, if not at safety. He has played in 22 contests with three starts. The 2020 SEC All Academic Honor Roll honoree recorded 29 stops and three interceptions last season.
Coming off a major team disappointment last season, Ward and his teammates are preparing to meet LSU’s high expectations.
“Last year as a defense was embarrassing. We gave up too many yards, from an LSU standard of performance. And this year we’re going to change that and get back to the standard.”
Ward changed his jersey number from No. 16 to No. 5 in ’20. A former LSU player once told me that he picked No. 5 because it looked like an “S” as in Superman.
Jay Ward does not have to bend steel with his bare hands to be successful but he does possess the talent and ability to help transform the Tigers into a championship team once again.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…