Rookie FB Ward positioned for success

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CHARLOTTE – Most fullbacks don't lead glamorous football lives, so rookie Lee Ward is happy to have landed in a spot where fullbacks do sometimes share in the spotlight.

But whether Ward gets the ball like fullback Mike Tolbert or whether he's only asked to block for ballcarriers, Ward plans to take his opportunity and run with it.

"I would love to get the ball on an occasional handoff," Ward said. "But I'm a bruising, blocking fullback – someone who opens up running lanes, kind of like a road grader."

Ward's blocking ability is what earned him a look from the Panthers as an invited tryout, and his performance at rookie minicamp in early May led to a spot on the 90-man roster. After rushing for more than 1,000 yards over his final two high school seasons in Missouri while doubling as a linebacker, Ward played in 49 games at Stanford but carried the ball just one time.

"I think I would have thrived with the opportunity, but I was just never given that – not even in practice," Ward said. "But when you're on a team, you love seeing your team succeed, and I loved being the bodyguard for those guys.

"I think I can continue the role I had at Stanford and help open running lanes for the great runners we have on this team, be a good pass protector and catch the ball out of the backfield as well."

Ward has an excellent mentor in Tolbert, who scored seven touchdowns in 2013 to earn his first Pro Bowl nod before missing half of last season with a knee injury.

"Mike has been great. We actually have the same agent," Ward said. "He's been helping me a lot, trying to teach me every little aspect of the game. He's been a great teacher.

"I'm looking forward to him working with me more and trying to become the type of fullback he is because he's arguably the best fullback in the game."

Ward has also paid close attention to Richie Brockel, who has made the roster for four consecutive seasons as a tight end/fullback despite touching the ball just eight total times.

"Richie is a really talented guy who does a lot for this team," Ward said. "He's very versatile. He can play tight end and fullback, so it's been good watching him and trying to learn from him."

Teammates like Tolbert and Brockel helped get Ward up to speed after he missed the first week of organized team activities to complete his education. Ward graduated with a degree in science, technology and society, which combines product design and business management.

Ward has some ideas for possible inventions, but he's putting those on a shelf while he tackles the profession of football head-on.

"That's all for after football is over," Ward said. "I'm going to try to play football obviously as long as I can. Who wouldn't want to?"

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