PHILADELPHIA – Greg Ward was once shiny and new, the way DeVonta Smith is now.
OK, maybe Ward’s shiny-and-new didn’t sparkle in the same way Smith’s does because Ward, was, after all, an undrafted free agent five years ago compared to Smith, who was the 10th overall pick in April’s draft.
Not many noticed Ward when he came, then went. Then came and went. And came and went some more.
Six times he came and went after joining the Eagles out of Houston, a quarterback trying to convert to wide receiver.
He was waived half a dozen times until Nov. 23, 2019, when he was added from the practice squad to the active roster and hasn’t looked back since.
A day after his promotion, he caught six passes for 40 yards against the Seahawks. He had 22 more catches over the final five games, totaling 214 yards and a dazzling 4-yard touchdown reception from Carson Wentz with 26 seconds left in Washington that gave the Eagles a 31-27 win and preserved their march to the NFC East title with a season-ending, four-game winning streak.
And his roster spot was cemented.
The Eagles have imported half-a-dozen or so new players since Ward joined the active roster for good prior to Thanksgiving not that long ago.
Of course, nothing is “for good” in the NFL.
And maybe this is the summer that the collection of pass-catchers GM Howie Roseman brought in catch on.
The two first-round picks the last two years, Jalen Reagor and Smith, will. Two others from the class of 2020, John Hightower and Quez Watkins might, and there are others, including 2019 second-round pick J.J. Arcega-Whiteside who may be out of chances.
Either way, it’s crowded, like just about every position on a roster designed to deliver competition up and down the field under rookie head coach Nick Sirianni.
“I’m steady,” said Ward during the OTA period, which conclude this week. “I’m trying to improve every single day. Trying to just make sure I’m on my p’s and q’s. Not only for myself but make sure everybody around me they’re on the same page. We all need each other. There’s no one above the group. And we’re working together.”
Ward will be 26 on July 12. That makes him the “old man” of the group.
“I’m the oldest guy in the group,” said Ward. “That’s what I see. Which is crazy because I’m still young. That’s about it. We're all just working to focus on all the positions … The only thing (different) for me is I’m the oldest guy in the group.”
Ward said he gets a lot of questions from his younger teammates, but “I’m still learning myself.”
Returning position coach Aaron Moorehead called Ward a leader in the room last year. That has not changed.
His role might, though.
Reagor said he expects to be used more in the slot this season.
That is usually where Ward resides.
Asked where he fits, Ward said:
“Wherever they want me to.”
Ward should be strong enough to fend off any challenges.
Last year, he had 53 receptions for 419 yards, which was the second highest among receivers on the team behind Travis Fulgham. His six touchdown catches were more than anyone else on the roster.
Teammate and veteran cornerback Darius Slay took to Live Instagram recently and said Ward was the toughest receiver to guard in practice.
So, yeah, there will be a home for Ward on this year’s team, even though home may not always look the same as it did last season.
“We have to learn every single position,” he said. “We have to play every part of the field, whether it’s outside or inside. We’ve actually embraced that. We always talk about it. And we’re just encouraging everybody to get on one page and stay focused.”
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.