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What drives the Broncos' T.J. Ward

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Entering his second year with the Broncos, safety T.J. Ward is more comfortable with his Mile High surroundings and looking forward to doing more of what he likes to do on defense - running and hitting.

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The fact that Thursday would have been the 28th birthday of Terrance Kelly - a standout footballer at De La Salle High School in Richmond, Calif., who was gunned down 11 years ago, a day before he would have begun his freshman year at Oregon - is inconsequential to most outside Kelly's East Bay school and community.

But it is among the things that define Broncos safety T.J. Ward.

With a memorial tattoo in honor of his high school teammate and friend, Ward noted the birthday on his Instagram account Thursday:

"Happy Birthday to my friend, my brother! Terrance T.K. Kelly. Rest In Peace brother. Always loved, Never Forgotten."

Kelly was supposed to play at Oregon with Ward and three other teammates from De La Salle who made a pact to play at the same college program.

Ward didn't have a scholarship like the others but walked on to be with his friends. Ward's successful career with the Ducks and eventually in the NFL has been fueled in part by the tragedy that took his friend's life (and is at the crux of the 2014 movie, "When the Game Stands Tall.")

Though none of these events were mentioned during Ward's presser with the media on Wednesday, viewing his comments in light of T.K.'s would-be birthday this week, give perhaps a little extra insight into the safety's motivation to play as hard as he can.

Speaking to reporters after the third offseason workout of the week, Ward pointed to the importance of team chemistry on the Broncos - no doubt something that's been paramount to him since those high school days.

"We had a talented secondary, but it's all about gelling together," Ward said of the Broncos last season. "It was our first year playing together. It was the first year for a lot of guys on defense playing together. We're only going to be better. That cohesion is only going to come with time."

That cohesion will also be helped tremendously by Ward himself who feels more comfortable in his Mile High surroundings this offseason. He knows his teammates, his community, his fans.

I know my teammates a lot better. I'm not trying to find my niche on the team. I know what my niche is and I know what I want it to be.  -T.J. Ward, Safety

"I'm definitely more comfortable," said Ward. "I know my surroundings now. I know my teammates a lot better. I'm not trying to find my niche on the team. I know what my niche is and I know what I want it to be."

What he wants it to be is likely to be a lot of what it will be under Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense. With five players to handle blockers, Ward will be the sixth man (rather than the fifth) and will spend more time getting after the ball.

"It takes a little bit of pressure off of me as far as having to take on blockers, offensive lineman and things like that," Ward said. "I'll be able to move around a little bit more. I think you'll see a lot more running and hitting from me compared to shedding guards."

It's also likely to include more blitzing from Ward and the other defensive backs.

"That was definitely something that was brought up as soon as [Phillips] got here. I think you'll see a lot more of that this year."

Although his role will likely be more versatile in Phillips' system, Ward noted that right now everyone is just getting back to fundamentals.

"Right now, we're trying to start with the basics. We're just now getting into the blitz installs and sub packages," Ward said. "It's definitely more of a variety of what I am going to be allowed to do, so I'm excited about that."

Ward is also impressed with how the coaching staff is approaching these team workouts with the players and the position groups.

"It's going very well right now," said the sixth-year safety. "I think the installs, the direction that they want to go with the team and how they're going about it right now is great for us. ... I think Coach Kubiak has a good philosophy. They're doing a lot of teaching right now. Sometimes you've got to get back to the basics and get those fundamentals down. I think they're doing a great job of that."

Although the teammate who lines up as the other safety with Ward is not certain, Ward knows the coaches will put the best six DBs on the field.

Coach Kubiak has a good philosophy. They're doing a lot of teaching right now. Sometimes you've got to get back tot he basics and get those fundamentals down.  -T.J. Ward on team workouts

Ward believes cornerback Bradley Roby could make the transition to safety (as has been suggested) with "his ability, his smarts and his competitiveness," but also noted that David Bruton Jr. "tackled well, was physical and aggressive" when filling in while Ward was out with an injury. "Coach says he's going to put the six best DBs on the field. Whoever it is, is going to be more than capable of filling that job."

Naturally, the two-time Pro-Bowler has already penciled himself in as one of the starting six - and it's not arrogance that says that, it's motivation.

"I guarantee myself a spot. I've got a chip on my shoulder at all times. I know guys are coming for my spot and I'm working as hard as I can to be the best player I can. We've got a bunch of guys that can fill that spot, and that's a great thing about it," Ward said. "It's going to be a good competitive offseason."

Though he didn't say it - and may not have even thought about it - I'm sure his high school teammate "T.K." would like that attitude.