Well-schooled Ward earned advanced football degree in college
Steelers receiver Hines Ward, who played several positions on offense in college, became a smart football player out of necessity, Bill Williamson writes. NFL coaches have noticed.
NFL Coaches Survey
ESPN.com surveyed NFL head coaches for their take on a range of issues, including the league's smartest offensive player (non-QB), smartest defensive player, dirtiest player, best owner and best referees. Thirty-one of the 32 coaches participated on some level. Each head coach received anonymity for his candor.• Smartest offensive: Hines Ward
• Smartest defensive: Zach Thomas
• Dirtiest player: Rodney Harrison
• Best owner: Dan Rooney
• Best refs: Mike Carey, Ed Hochuli
• More: Can teams ostracize refs?
• Watch: NFL Live on 'dirtiest'
• Watch: NFL Live on 'smartest'
"You wonder once in a while what the coaches think of you, and this is really a nice honor," Ward said of the results.
Said one AFC coach: "Hines has been one of the smartest players in the league for a long time. He just has a knack for the game."Sixteen different players received a vote from one of the 30 coaches who answered this specific survey question about smart players. Coaches were encouraged not to vote for a player on their team. Tennessee center Kevin Mawae, Indianapolis center Jeff Saturday and New England receiver Randy Moss tied for second with three votes apiece. Two players, Philadelphia left tackle Jon Runyan and St. Louis receiver Torry Holt, received two votes. But Ward was the winner with four votes. "That's a good call," said Denver safety John Lynch, widely considered one of the league's brighter defenders since entering the league in 1993. Lynch said a game against Ward is always a date in precision. "Hines reminds me a lot for playing against Cris Carter when I was in Tampa Bay," Lynch said. "You can never figure those guys out. They didn't have the most blinding speed or were the quickest guys, but guys like Cris and Hines were always at the right place when they needed to be there."
2007 Highlight: Hines Ward caught 10 passes for 135 yards in the Steelers loss vs. the Jaguars in the AFC Wild Card.
"It's just not talent," Lynch said. "There are talented guys all over the league. But the special guys, the guys you remember and the guys you really look forward to facing, they are the smart ones. You always have to worry about the intelligent players."Ward knows intelligence has helped his career. "I think it has given me an edge," Ward said. "But it all goes back to college. I had to know every bit for the offense and I'm glad I did. It has helped me for the rest for my career." And it has been noticed. Bill Williamson covers the NFL for ESPN.com.