JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Mike Quick knows a little something about the wide-receiver position. He can recognize who can play it and who can’t. And there’s no doubt in his mind that Greg Ward can.
“He’s ready,’’ said Quick, a five-time Pro Bowler who has the third-most receiving touchdowns (61) and receiving yards (6,464) in Eagles history. “There’s a transition period for a guy like that who’s moving from [college] quarterback to receiver. But he’s so talented. He’s ready.’’
After two swings-and-misses at making the Eagles’ roster the last two summers, the former University of Houston quarterback is making it difficult for the team to cut him a third time.
Ward, 24, has had an outstanding training camp, and he continued to make his case for a roster spot Thursday night with a 38-yard touchdown reception in the Eagles’ 24-10 preseason win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“When you get opportunities, you try to capitalize,’’ Ward said.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Ward got his opportunity early in the second quarter when he blew by Jaguars safety C.J. Reavis on a fourth-and-4 play. He had Reavis beaten by 3 yards, but the pass from rookie Clayton Thorson was underthrown.
Ward adjusted and made the catch, then beat Reavis again as he cut to the middle of the field and outraced him and another Jacksonville defensive to the end zone.
“He was just playing aggressive, and I got his hands off me,’’ Ward said. “He was real heavy on his feet. Trying to use his hands a lot instead of his feet. I swiped his hands and sprung myself open and made the catch. After that, it was just the will to win, man. Trying to score.’’
There still are two more preseason games to play, still 10 more practices to get through before the Eagles have to get their roster down to 53 players.
A lot can happen between now and then, which is why Ward, who already has had his heart broken twice by the Eagles, isn’t looking very far into the future.
“I’m just trying to take it day by day,’’ he said. “I’m not looking ahead, not looking at the [roster] numbers. Just taking care of what I can take care of. Going out there and putting my best foot forward.’’
If Ward, who never really was a serious contender for a roster spot the last two summers, had paid attention to the numbers when training camp opened three weeks ago, he probably would have packed his bags and gone home.
Four wide-receiver spots already were locked up by Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, DeSean Jackson and second-round rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside long before Ward ever reported to camp. And assuming his injured groin finally had healed, 2017 fourth-round pick Mack Hollins seemed to have a pretty good grip on the fifth — and maybe final — job.
It still remains to be seen how many wideouts the Eagles will keep. They kept six last year. But even if they keep only five, Ward is pushing Hollins for that spot.
Hollins has missed valuable time this summer with yet another lower-body injury. He played a few snaps Thursday night, catching one pass for 5 yards.
Hollins is an excellent special teams player. It’s one of the reasons the Eagles drafted him. If you’re the fifth or sixth wideout on the roster, you have to be able to make a special teams contribution.
But Ward has played well on special teams as well in the first two preseason games. He was on both the kickoff and punt coverage teams Thursday night.
“Greg is super conscientious,’’ special teams coach Dave Fipp said. “Super smart. You can play him at any spot. He’s really competitive.’’
Ward isn’t shy about asking for help on how to become a better special teams player.
“I’ve been talking to [safety] Malcolm Jenkins every day and seeing what I can do to improve,’’ he said. “I was even talking to him during the game. I was asking him to watch every single rep and tell me what I could do better. He’s somebody I can always talk to.’’
As an undrafted rookie two years ago, Ward spent most of the Eagles’ Super Bowl season on the practice squad after getting cut. Last year, he was signed again to the practice squad after not making the 53-man roster, but he was released a week later.
He spent last fall out of football before signing with the San Antonio Commanders in the short-lived spring league, the Alliance of American Football.
Ward still has a year of practice-squad eligibility, but it won’t be an option this year. Other teams have noticed his play this summer.
“I’d hate to see them lose him,’’ said Quick, the Eagles’ longtime radio analyst. “If they put him on the practice squad, somebody is going to pick him up right away. There’s no question about that.’’
Ward played only eight games in the AAF before the league shut down with two scheduled games left. But he said the experience is a big reason he’s been playing so well this summer. He credits San Antonio’s wide receivers coach, Keith Williams, with helping him take his development as a receiver to another level.
Williams "was always emphasizing that I need to sink my hips on routes,’’ Ward said. “I learned a lot from him. He helped my game a lot. We’d watch film, and if we weren’t doing something right, he would catch it and point it out to us and coach us up.’’
Ward has excelled in the slot in camp this summer, but he can play all three wide-receiver spots. His quarterback background also makes him an intriguing gimmick weapon on jet sweeps and options for head coach Doug Pederson.
The Eagles ran an option with him in the third quarter Thursday night, but his pass to wide receiver Carlton Agudosi was slightly underthrown.
“It kind of got away from me,’’ he said with a regretful smile. “I gotta get back to the drawing board. I wish I had that one back.’’
Ward actually became the Eagles’ backup quarterback Thursday night after Cody Kessler suffered a concussion early in the game. With Carson Wentz not playing, if something had happened to Thorson, Ward would have played quarterback.
“We had him on standby,’’ Pederson said. “He was coached up and ready to go.’’
Ward walked out of the visitors’ locker room at TIAA Bank Field on Thursday night happy with his performance. But nothing is settled yet, nothing has been accomplished. He knows that.