The San Francisco 49ers selected Northern Illinois defensive back Jimmie Ward with the 30th pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Ward was at home for the draft, and had a chance to speak with the media via conference call after his selection. He will meet the media in person on Friday in Santa Clara, but in the meantime, here is a transcript of his Thursday call.
You pretty excited?
“Yeah, very excited.”
I’m sure you had some hope of going in the first round, but did you have any thinking that it might be to the 49ers?
“I didn’t have any clue. It’s crazy that I wore a hat too. The only hat I wore throughout the draft process was a 49ers hat. It ended up maybe that was a sign.”
You made a visit out here how long ago?
“I would say a good two weeks ago I made a visit out there.”
And what was that visit like and did you get a sense after that that they were hot on your trail?
“Yeah, I didn’t have any clue. There were a lot of team’s showing a lot of interest and then three safeties went off the board and I thought about it. I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ Then I ended up getting a phone call and I was like, ‘This is New England right now,’ and it was the coach, [head] coach [Jim] Harbaugh and then he called me, told me, ‘Are you ready to play?’ I was excited. Cali, I love the weather. Got to go down there and play my bowl game down there. Never would’ve thought I’d end up getting drafted by the 49ers.”
Harbaugh talked, obviously they have a need for a nickel cornerback. Do you view that, at least initially, as kind of your primary spot with the team?
“Yeah, I take pride because I’m versatile, so I take pride in covering, show how versatile I am. I can tackle, I can cover, I can do a lot of things. So, I would love to compete for that nickel spot. So, that’s one thing that going into training camp that I’m going to really take to heart at.”
Why did you keep wearing a 49ers hat only during this process?
“I have no clue. I just ended up putting it on. It went with my sweater, it was red with the white and I just ended up putting it on and it matched my NIU sweater. That’s when I was like, ‘What a coincidence.’”
Where’d you buy it?
“Actually I got it from them during the combine time. They ended up giving me a hat and another bag and like a shirt to go with it.”
They have, obviously, S Eric Reid here. S Antoine Bethea is signed for a few years. What kind of expectations do you come here with?
“Basically, I’m going to try and fit in wherever I can fit in. Like I said, I’m versatile, so whatever spot I get, I’m going to try to start. I’m not just going to come in there, I’m a competitor. So, I want to play. But, there’s a lot I can learn from them guys. Those guys have been there for a couple years. I know I’m going to come in and I know they’re going to teach me a lot. ”
How much nickel did you play for Northern Illinois?
“I started three years at nickel, including safety.”
Do you know approximately what percentage of defensive plays were in the nickel? Estimate?
“I want to say a good 40 percent, 50 percent, because in the MAC Conference, there’s a lot of spread offenses. They throw the ball around a lot.”
When did you have surgery?
“I had surgery March 11th.”
OK, and how are you physically?
“Coming in well. I went to check-ins on the 25th and all the team doctors said everything looked good and good healing process.”
That was in Indy?
“Yeah, that was in Indy. That was at the re-check.”
What exactly was the surgery?
“Metatarsal Jones fracture. Metatarsal bone. They basically put a screw in the metatarsal, it was fractured. They took some bone marrow out of my hip and inserted it into the crack to help speed up the process.”
Do you have an idea of when you’ll be cleared to get on the field and run around out here?
“I was shooting around OTAs, but it’s probably going to be a little bit later than that. I want to say probably two weeks, three weeks.”
And when did you guys have final exams or when do you have them?
“It’s this week.”
OK, so you’ll be able to come out here next week?
“Probably tomorrow most likely.”
What other teams were looking at you and what other visits did you make?
So, you did all your pro day stuff before your foot surgery? So, you were essentially running on a bad foot?
“Yes sir, that’s correct.”
And your 40 time was like what, 4.45?
“Yeah, around that time. Yes.”
What do you think it would be on a fully healthy wheel?
“I have no clue.”
But better than 4.45?
“Yeah, most likely. I was running better than that before. I wanted to run at the combine, but hey, I got to run at the pro day and I still ran the 4.4s, so I was grateful for that.”
When did you initially hurt your foot?
“I have no clue. I didn’t feel it. I had no symptoms. I didn’t feel anything.”
But you assume it was some time during your last season?
“Yeah, I would want to say that.”
One of the things the Niners like about you is your tackling style, your ability to hit people, hit them hard. Where does that come from? Who taught you that?
“Basically, it was just the passion to want to play the game, the passion to want to tackle. I take a lot of pride in tackling. When I was young, I used to play with older guys. My brothers used to play ball a lot and I just always wanted to tackle. I always wanted to hit guys. So, that’s what I fell in love with.”
And how would you describe your style as a hitter?
“I would say a smart tackler because I don’t just go for the big hits, not all the time. Only when the big hits are there, I take them. But, I’m normally get the guy on the ground, play the next down.”
Did you watch the 49ers play much the last couple seasons?
“I watched a few games. Well, I watched the game against Seattle.”
And what do you think about, from afar, about this team that you’re joining?
“I think they’re a good team. I think they’re a playoff contender. I think they’ll be in the playoffs again this year. That’s why I said I can’t wait to help contribute to that.”
You just mentioned your brothers you would play with. How many brothers?
OK, are you the youngest of the three then?
“Yes, I am.”
A guy who likes to hit like you, the rules have kind of changed while you were in college about what’s a legal hit, what’s not a legal hit. Did you have any trouble adjusting to that or--?
“I got kicked out of one game and they cleared me from the next game because it was a legal hit. But, the refs better be safe than sorry.”
So, did you have any other personal foul type penalties because of those kind of tackles?
“No, all the rest of the big hits I had were clean. That one was clean too, but the ref, he just had to make a choice.”
When you were out here visiting the Niners, did defensive coordinator Vic Fangio or secondary coach Ed Donatell put you through some studying to see how well you could play nickel?
“Yeah, well not just nickel, safety too. They picked me on the board a little bit. Basically describe, went over a couple plays. It was simple. I know football, so it was simple to me.”
Were you expecting to go in the first round? Did you have confidence you would be?
“Yeah, I heard I could go either up to like late first to the latest I could go was third. Me as a football player, as long as I get drafted, I was going to help contribute to the team somehow, someway. So, I got passion, football player. I’m a competitor, so other safeties and just other guys going in front of me who I probably think I’m more better than, it’ll get to me. But, yet again, we’re all going to get here. And now everybody’s on the same level right now.”
And you play all special teams?
“Yeah, yes sir.”