ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -Derrick Ward is giving the New York Giants a bigger than normal kickoff return game. Much bigger.
In a specialty job where the average return man may weigh about 180 pounds, Ward is packing 230 every time he fields a kickoff and gets in gear behind a wedge of blockers.
As far as the Giants were concerned, Ward was one of the highlights in their 24-21 preseason loss to the Carolina Panthers on Saturday. The fourth-year back averaged 45.5 yards on two returns, taking the second 67 yards to set up New York's first touchdown.
``The kickoff return is like a big zone play,'' Ward said before a recent practice at the University at Albany. ``It's one cut and up. There is not a lot of time to dance back and forth. You have to hit it. So that's what I try to do.
``I am a big back and once I go forward that is a lot of force coming behind me. The little guys, it will hurt.''
Veteran linebacker Reggie Torbor knows what Ward is talking about. He plays on all the Giants' kickoff and punt teams and he has taken his share of hits. He also knows Ward well enough to make fun of him.
``He's a little stocky guy,'' Torbor said of 5-foot-11 back. ``He needs to go in the steam room and drop 50 pounds.''
After a couple of seconds of chuckling, Torbor gets serious about his buddy.
``He's so fiery, and that's the best word I can use to describe him,'' Torbor said. ``Once he gets the ball, he's not a cutter, a Dante Hall type. He's straight downhill. And being on kickoff coverage teams, that's not the type of guy you want to go against because he's been going 30 yards by the time you get to him.''
There was a downside for Ward on his long kickoff return. He got caught from behind and didn't score.
Naturally, during the special teams meetings after the game, Ward got grief from teammates.
``He ran out of gas,'' Torbor said. ``It was the first game. We'll excuse him on that one. Once we get into the season, we won't excuse him if he gets caught from behind.''
Ward, who returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown in 2004 for the Giants, enjoys his role. However, it's obvious he wants to be more than a return man. He played halfback in high school and college and he wants to carry the ball in the NFL.
With the retirement of Tiki Barber, the starting job belongs to Brandon Jacobs. New York also acquired Reuben Droughns from Cleveland in the offseason and drafted Ahmad Bradshaw in the seventh round in April.
Where Ward fits into the running backs' picture is uncertain. He has carried the ball 35 times for 123 yards, a 3.5 yard average, in his first three seasons. He got five carries against the Panthers on Saturday and averaged 5.8 yards.
``I am showing them that I can be accountable on the kickoff return and as the third back,'' Ward said. ``I think that once that preseason continues and I can show them what else I can do, that will open their eyes and show them I can help this team out in any way possible.''
Ward also needs to show that he can stay healthy. He missed the first six games last season. During training camp he slipped on a wet floor while wearing his cleats and broke his foot. Eventually, he played eight games and averaged 20.3 yards on 23 kickoff returns with a long of 36 before re-injuring his foot.
``I want to show them I can be a part of this team and that I can help them win,'' Ward said. ``That's the main thing. I want to show them I can stay healthy and be that spurt that is needed.''
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