ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** Once the pads are on, that's when real football starts. It's a sentiment that so many players echo.
Saturday, the Broncos' first day donning pads in months, was like Christmas for hard-hitting T.J. Ward.
Ward's first victim of the day was former Pittsburg Steeler Emmanuel Sanders. Ward, a former Cleveland Brown, said even though their former teams are division rivals, that they are fully teammates now and that bad blood is nonexistent.
Ward said getting hit is part of the game and even though Sanders was a little upset about the hit, Ward responded by telling him to "just get back to the huddle, we've got a long practice."
"We're complete teammates right now, there's no rivalry there," Ward said. "It's all competition. We're still in practice. I know how competitive he is, how competitive I am. It was just a play where I tried to get the ball out and he fell. It was just a bang-bang play. Nothing too serious. "
Ward always has a sense of eagerness and anticipation for the first hit of training camp. He compares hitting people to riding a bike. Adjusting to the added weight of pads and "getting your feet under you" takes a little time, but it's relatively simple for him to find his rhythm again.
Take a look at photos from the third day of training camp - the team's first day in pads.
But Ward thrived in practice today. The hit on Sanders got the defense riled up and later, in the second-to-last period, he got the best of Ronnie Hillman with a big hit in the backfield. Hillman couldn't get outside fast enough and Ward flew towards him and hit him for a loss.
Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio said he likes what Ward has shown him so far.
"He's going to bring some toughness to our defense, and we've got some tough guys on our defense so he'll fit right in with that," Del Rio said. "A welcomed addition."
Ward and fellow new defensive acquisition DeMarcus Ware are fostering a new, tougher mentality on the defense. Ward is known as one of the most physical players in the league and that's part of the reason the Broncos signed him.
When Ware first joined the team, he called the defense's additions "an investment in brutal nasty."
Linebacker Danny Trevathan said Ward will "come and get you."
"Those guys [Ward and Ware] are savages, man," Trevathan said. "Anything that's out there left to be picked up, they're going to go out there and clean it up and they're going to leave everything out there on that field. That's just the type I am too. I think they did a good job of filling in guys and bringing new guys in that fit within the type of scheme that we play."
Today was only the team's first day in pads and Ward does what he can to avoid hurting his new teammates. He said that, like in games, once you get the first hit, everything just "kind of flows evenly." Ward has always been the kind of player that doesn't hold back.
His big hits bring life and excitement to the defense, just like his energetic personality.
"Especially as a defense, we're like 'alright now we've got the pads on, let's see what you're going to do with the pads," Ward said. "You've seen some of those situations today where it wasn't the same like in OTAs or in the first couple of days of practice. As a defensive player, I know especially me, I'm eager to lay that first hit on whoever."
It's fun for him to get "a little bit of thud going on."