By Mike Bires
Beaver County Times
September 20, 2011
Hines Ward(notes) #86 of the Pittsburgh Steelers makes a catch on the sideline in front of Walter Thurmond(notes) #28 of the Seattle Seahawks during the game on September 18, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Hines Ward admits that his “day is coming.” He knows that in time he will lose his starting job with the Steelers. He just hopes it doesn’t happen any time soon — as in this year.
Gone are the days when Ward runs routs as Ben Roethlisberger’s No. 1 target.
Ward may still be the self-proclaimed “leader of the wideouts” when it comes to know-how and leadership. But the main man on the receiving corps is now Mike Wallace, the third-year speedster who continues to put up remarkable numbers.
Then there are the two fleet-footed second-year pros, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Next year, one of them will surely nudge Ward closer to retirement. One of them will join Wallace in the starting lineup when the 2012 season begins. Both offer so much talent.
But for now, Ward remains a viable option. He may be 35 but he still has much to contribute. Granted, he’s not as fast as he was in his prime although he was never a burner to begin with. He may have a harder time getting open than he once did, especially against big, physical cornerbacks. No longer does the opposition’s best cover corner guard him.
But Ward will still have his moments.
So far in two games, Roethlisberger has targeted Wallace 20 times. Ward and Brown were the intended receiver 15 times each. Wallace leads the team with 16 catches. Ward is second with nine. Brown is third with six.
And none of the young wide receivers block as well as Ward. It’s not even close.
In Sunday’s 24-0 win over the Seahawks, Wallace (126), Brown (67) and Sanders (44) each had more receiving yards than Ward (33). But it was Ward who was open on a trick play in the first quarter when Sanders threw to him for 15 yards. Then in the third quarter, Ward made a nifty catch along the sideline, keeping both feet inbounds for a 15-yard gain.
“Twinkle toes,” Ward, a “Dancing with the Stars” champion, said when describing that catch.
Roethlisberger called Ward’s catch a “phenomenal play on his part.”
In 2009, Ward signed a four-year contract extension that will allow him to finish his career with the Steelers. He’s locked in through the 2013 season.
The owner of 14 different Steelers’ receiving records, Ward ranks No. 8 on the NFL’s all-time receptions list with 963. He needs just 37 more to become just the eighth receiver in league history to reach 1,000.
He’s on pace this year to catch 72.
Ward doesn’t have many more years to play. But that doesn’t mean he’s fading fast. He still can make plays.