T.J. Ward discusses 'hair on fire' playing style, new ejection rule

NFL Media's Oklahoma Drill series presents exclusive, quick-hitting one-on-one interviews with players and coaches from around the league. No nonsense -- just football experiences directly from the source.

Safety, Denver Broncos

Born: Dec. 12, 1986

Experience: Six NFL seasons

Interview by Tom Blair | March 22, 2016

I play with my hair on fire, as my coach likes to tell me. Like I got a motor. I fly around.

I try to hit anything moving and I talk a lot. So I try to be motivating while I'm out there, and just try to encourage guys. And if they're not doing what they supposed to do, then I'm gonna get on them, too. All of those things.

I did [always play like that], but I think this year, I took it to another level. I've always been that type of player, to play like how I'm playing. But I think this year, maybe, it was just more intent, and not as unconscious as it was before. Where I just felt like this year, like, I had a motor, like, I-never-got-tired-during-the-game type of motor. Which, I'd never felt like that in my whole career.

I think just my preparation. Before the preseason, like my training. I did more longer running-type drills and things ... on the track and stuff.

Frustration. [You know you're in an opponent's head when] you see frustration in their eyes. Body language. Or, just, you see them quit, you know? You see they just stop. They don't want it no more.

Most of our games, you know, come down to the end. [You've been] battling all game long, and that team makes that one mistake, or, you know, we drive down the field and score, or they can't get down the field because they're tired, or whatever the reason is -- we've broken their will, 'cause we've been fighting, and we've been battling, and been hitting them all game long. You know, they either going to break, or we gonna make 'em break.

Oh, no doubt [I embraced the leadership role]. I love it.

I learned a lot, just playing throughout the years, and I learned a lot from a lot of different players. I think it's just my overall experience, you know, dealing with different leaders on my team coming up. Even learning from guys who are on the team now, leaders on the team like D. Ware, 'Qib, you know, Von, just seeing how they approach different situations. And try to use 'em and try to better myself.

I think people think that safety is easy to play, for whatever reason. That you just sit back there and you play the deep ball and you come up and tackle people. It's probably the most mentally strenuous position on the field. You have to be able to cover small and big. It's the most versatile position on the field. You have to be able to do the most. You gotta cover big guys, you gotta cover small guys. You gotta tackle big guys, you gotta tackle small guys.

If you playing multiples, like me and Stew play, where we're playing free and strong, you gotta be able to play the deep or you gotta be able to come down, play man, and play the zone, play the holes. You gotta be able to blitz; you gotta do everything.

You see corners sometimes, they think it's easy to cover tight ends, so they get out there on the tight end, and the tight end is just abusin' 'em. That's the biggest misconception about safety. And it's kinda irritating, because I feel like the pay grade is paid like that. It's like, OK, safeties are paid in this hole right here, where this is how much of a value they hold to the rest of the defense and the team, and I feel like that's not at all -- it's like way up here. 'Cause you see when teams lose they safeties, what happens to their defenses.

[Today's game] definitely favors the offense, but it is what it is; nothing's gonna change.

I mean, [playing hard and by the rules is] easy. I mean ... it's just that when you keep adding more and more, and it's like, "OK, things are just gonna happen." You know, it's football; things are going to happen. And when you be putting the rules up to cover the things that are just gonna happen during the play of the game, during the course of the game, without you trying to do it, it's like, why is that even a rule?

Well, I knew the defense was gonna change [when Wade Phillips came onboard], for the better, in my opinion. Just, you know, knowing what type of defenses he ran in the past, and the success he's had. I remember watching him when he was in Houston, when I was in Cleveland, just watching the film. I used to watch [Glover] Quin a lot, 'cause he played the same position, and how Wade used him, so I knew that would be similar to how he used me, so I was excited about it.

I mean, Wade, it's not like one story that's better than all the other ones -- it's kinda like all the same story. Wade's just, like, super cool. Like, come into the locker room, dance and stuff with us.

First off, his experience. For him to have that much experience and him to be so passionate, like, he cares so much about the game, it's crazy. 'Cause he gets really emotional. And then, his pops meant a lot to him -- you know, Bum Phillips, what he done for the league and for the NFL.

So you can tell how much just the game means to him and how much his players mean to him -- and that's what makes him mean so much to his players. And I think that's why he has such good defenses, 'cause his players wanna play for him. When you have a coach that you wanna play for, you care for and you know that they care for you? You play with that extra little bit of something.

My favorite part of being on the football field is ... That's a good question. I don't know. I just like the smell of the grass. Like, the pads, the way your helmet smells on the inside. That [expletive] don't change. Like, from 8 years old to 28, the grass doesn't smell any different. Your shoulder pads don't smell any different. Your helmet, you done had 50 helmets, and they all smell the same. It's like, it's just everything just coming together at once. It's hard to explain. ... I don't know; it's hard to explain. It's like a breath of fresh air, it's like a breath of air, like, [inhales deeply] "Football air!" And being out there with the guys.

I think [the new ejection rule is] B.S. Because a lot of those penalties are derived from playing hard. And accidental. So to kick someone out of the game for playing hard, on something that's accidental, or especially ... it's going to be defensively biased, 'cause, you know, facemask, horse collars, helmet-to-helmet hits. I mean, what do you got on offense? Chop block now? Hands to the face? You know, it's ... Of course defensive players are going to be getting thrown out at a higher level than offensive players.

No, I wasn't really paying attention to that whole process, but yeah, I was surprised [Brock Osweiler] left. I definitely was.

[Going from the Browns to the Broncos] was a complete 180.

I don't want to get into the details, 'cause I've been through this whole ... it really doesn't have to be said. People see it. It's in the evidence. ... Denver's just a better organization right now, and has been.

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