Eagles' Watford, Ward in Different Stages of Transition From QB to WR

During his senior year at the University of Houston, Greg Ward would spend all practice throwing passes to his wide receivers. 

After practice, the roles reversed. 

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While Ward was a dynamic dual-threat quarterback for the Cougars, he realized at his size, he wasn't going to have a future in the NFL as a QB. So after practices at Houston, he would run routes and catch passes from two of his favorite wideout targets, Linell Bonner and Steven Dunbar. 

That transition to becoming a wide receiver has continued in Philadelphia. Now nearly a month after signing as an undrafted free agent, he's already starting to settle in to his new position. 

"I don't want to say it's easy," he said Thursday after an OTA practice. "Nothing that you ever want to be good at is easy. But it's not as tough as I thought it would be, as far as running routes. I just have to keep working on concepts."

The good news for Ward is he's far from the first college quarterback to make the switch to receiver in the pros. In fact, he's not even the only guy on the 90-man roster who's done it. 

Last year, in a somewhat similar position, the Eagles signed undrafted prospect David Watford, who was a quarterback at Virginia and Hampton before going undrafted. He was a tryout player at the Eagles' rookie minicamp before the team signed him and eventually stashed him on the practice squad for the season. 

Both Ward and Watford are part of a crowded receiver room where there doesn't seem to be much of a chance to make the 53-man roster. So it seems possible they might end up battling each other for one of 10 practice squad spots. 

"These guys are smart guys. They're hard workers," head coach Doug Pederson said. "They're used to the ball in their hands from being a quarterback to now being a receiver. So they're used to carrying the ball and catching the ball. Both have a dynamic skill set that's been fun to watch this spring."

While Watford and Ward have one big thing in common - the conversion to receiver from quarterback - they're plenty different too. 

Ward is just 5-foot-11, 186 pounds and is certainly the shiftier of the two. In addition to passing for 8,704 yards, he also rushed for 2,381 in four years, including a 1,000-plus-yard season as a junior in 2015. 

Watford, meanwhile, is 6-2, 212, with some of the broadest shoulders of any receiver on the team. He passed for 4,681 collegiate yards, but rushed for a combined 437 yards in three years at Virginia and one at Hampton. 

And then there are their paths to playing receiver. 

Ward knew pretty early that he was going to make the conversion and actually played some receiver early during his career at Houston. Watford didn't decide to play receiver until a couple weeks before joining the Eagles at his tryout. He even went through his entire pro day at Hampton as a QB. Watford said he was ready to head north to the CFL to pursue a career as a quarterback, but after talking to his family and praying about it, decided to make a go of it in the NFL. 

"At the end of the day, that's what the goal was," Watford said about playing in the NFL. "It wasn't 'I want to play quarterback in the NFL.' It was 'I want to be in the NFL, no matter what it is.' At the end of the day, that's what I have an opportunity to do, to pursue that, and the rest is history." 

Unlike many receivers who enter the league, the biggest hurdle for these two isn't really the mental part of the game. As former quarterbacks, they generally have a pretty good grasp of the entire offense and even coverages from defenses. That all works in their advantage. 

The things they both need to work on are the details of being a receiver, like route running, body control, blocking and getting in and out of breaks. 

"These two guys, being former quarterbacks," Pederson said, "have the mindset, the skill set and the athletic ability to transition into a wide receiver position."

Ward is lucky in the sense that he has someone in the same locker room and position room that has already gone through the same type of metamorphosis. The biggest piece of advice Ward said he's gotten from Watford is to stay patient. Ward wants to be the type of player Watford has become.

"I talk to G every day or he'll come to me and pick my brain and just ask me little stuff," Watford said. "I just try to give him as much as I can and help him out as much as I can because G is super talented. He has great hands. He's naturally gifted. It's just getting the mental and the physical matched up to where it just shows on the field every day."

If Watford's rookie season was any indication, Ward has plenty of work ahead of him. 

On plenty of off-days last year, Watford would show up to the facility and work with assistant receivers coach Joe D'Orazio for hours. He said D'Orazio wouldn't let him leave until he got the plays down. 

"When I first got here," Watford said, "I felt like I was a quarterback playing receiver because I was like 'ahh! This is a lot.' But as I got around the guys and pulled me in and put me under their wing, it started to give me confidence. And I felt like I'm here for a reason. Don't stress about it, don't worry. That's when I started to feel like a receiver, feeling like one of the guys."

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