JACKSONVILLE – Defensive end Jihad Ward certainly looks the part at 6-feet-5, 285 pounds.
Watching him against the Cleveland Browns Saturday night in the 2021 preseason opener at TIAA Bank Field, it was clear why Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen made Ward a priority when free agency began last spring.
"One, he's a physical specimen in terms of the run game," Cullen said Monday after Day 14 of Jaguars 2021 Training Camp practice at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex. "He's big, he's 285 pounds, he can play four positions, really. We talk about winning this division. We have to go to Nashville, and you can see what the Titans have.
"You've got to set edges against those guys and that's what we brought him here for."
The Jaguars' run defense against the Browns appeared markedly improved from a season ago when it allowed 4.5 yards per rushing attempt and let four teams run for more than 200 yards. The Browns, one of the NFL's strongest running teams, rushed for 41 yards on 26 carries Saturday.
"The big thing I was really impressed with going back [to Saturday] is Cleveland is one of the best running teams in football," Cullen said. "I don't care who you they had lining up: they had 26 carries for 41 yards that's 1.6 yards per carry."
Ward, who already has made his presence felt on the field, also has a personality – one that may be bigger than his huge frame. Head Coach Urban Meyer has raved about him off the field and made note of how he carries himself, while most of his teammates love his "different personality."
Ward has been around the NFL, having played for the Raiders, Colts and Ravens – and he said Monday he has learned to simply be himself no matter where he is.
"Sometimes you don't feel like going to work but you have to have fun with it," Ward said. "Live your life: that's what I tell these rookies and players. You cannot control what's going on up here, you can't. All you can control is this field, so they can run the show and have their opinions up here but let it be known that I control this field and I'm going to do whatever I want. I'll still do all the plays and all that, but I'm going to be me and that's how I live my life to the fullest."
The sixth-year veteran on Monday discussed his independent mindset, his adventures travelling the world and his reputation as a mastermind of numerous practical jokes that keep his teammates on their toes.
"It's time to embrace yourself man," Ward said of his outlook. "I'm living my life. I've been in Philadelphia a lot, and I ain't been out of the city except Philadelphia. It's hard to make it out of the city. It's hard to make it out of the hood. I've living my life. I've done things in the United States, and I've been to Dubai and Brazil.
"I'm living my life. I'm living the dream."
Cullen on Monday discussed the trade last week that sent linebacker Joe Schobert to the Pittsburgh Steelers, specifically discussing the current linebackers that gave the Jaguars confidence to make the move. "We got Damien Wilson, who is a two-year starter for Kansas City at mike linebacker," Cullen said. "We drafted Shaq Quarterman a year ago. The thing we saw from those young linebackers is speed, downhill thump in terms of knocking the run out. It was a decision to move forward that was best for both, the organization and Joe."
Monday marked the first day at '21 camp for Jaguars defensive lineman Taven Bryan, who was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list Sunday. Cullen called Bryan a work in progress, saying the fourth-year veteran must continue to improve. "Well, unfortunately I have not seen anything because Taven, he hasn't done anything," Cullen said. "He was out there at practice today. Hopefully, he just keeps getting better."
Cullen on the defense versus Cleveland: "What I really liked was the effort and the mentality. We made some mistakes, but we were physical and had seven or eight guys on the ball. That was great. I really liked the physicality and the effort."