The San Francisco 49ers 2014 draft class is in town and working out with the team. They will conduct a rookie minicamp next weekend, and then it's a matter of going through OTAs with the rest of the squad as the offseason workout program rolls along.
As we move forward through the program and into training camp, we'll start to get a better handle on the 49ers depth chart. The PR department will release a depth chart for the first game of the preseason, but that won't really tell us a whole lot. Last year's preseason Week 1 depth chart featured Donte Whitner and C.J. Spillman at the top of the safety depth chart. In reality, Craig Dahl was the starter at free safety. Dahl played the first two defensive drives, totaling 12 snaps, and then Eric Reid came on in his place and played 44 defensive snaps.
In Week 2, Dahl was again the starter, but Reid got more time against a Kansas City Chiefs first string offense that got some extensive playing time. Reid played 41 snaps to Dahl's 14. In Week 3, Reid got the free safety start, and finished the game with 30 snaps. Reid never looked back from that point and was the starter the rest of the year. It was not really a surprise. Reid was drafted to be a safety of the future, and the future was expected by most to happen fairly quickly. Dahl is a very solid special teams contributor, but looking back, it was going to take a major Reid slip-up for Dahl to start at free safety once the regular season arrived.
And so now we look at defensive back JImmie Ward. Although he was listed as a safety coming out of college, he played a lot of nickel back, and really got experience all over the field. Both Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke stated he would work at nickel, but then also get some opportunities at safety. All indications are that he will be the nickel back of the short term future, and likely a safety of the longer term future.
Ward's primary competition at nickel back will likely be Eric Wright and Perrish Cox. The 49ers might decide to mix in other cornerbacks there, but I suspect those will be the primary competitors. With that in mind, at what point do you see Jimmie Ward in the 49ers starting lineup? Will it happen during training camp? Will it happen during the regular season? Or do you see him not getting past dime back this year? I have to think that last option would be a big disappointment for the 49ers.
My prediction is around Week 3 of training camp, in a similar fashion to Eric Reid. I don't think the same pressure to get into the lineup is on Ward that was on Reid, but as a first round pick it's certainly still there to some extent. What do you think?