The San Francisco 49ers spent their first round pick on defensive back Jimmie Ward knowing that he was recovering from a foot injury. Ward had foot surgery on March 11, and that has resulted in him being limited at the 49ers offseason workout program. He has been out there and involved in warmups, but he has not been able to get too involved thus far. The plan is to get him back to 100 percent in time for the start of training camp, and Coach Harbaugh has said he remains on track.
Vic Fangio had a chance to weigh in on the subject in a recent article by Eric Branch. Fangio is not one to glowingly praise rookies, but he generally is pretty honest with his appraisals. In Branch's article, Fangio made it clear that Ward is going to be behind when training camp starts due to the lack of on-field time during the OTAs. Even though there is no live contact, getting on the field in OTAs allows a player to feel his role and better understand what he is supposed to do in a given situation.
“You can sit in all these meetings you want, but the best way a players improves is: meet, go practice, come back and meet some more, learn what you did wrong, learn some new things, go practice … He’s not getting any of that practice. He can be practicing mentally in his head all he wants. That only takes you to a certain point. He’s got to go out there and experience it.”
Fangio said the hope is that the light will go on fairly quickly in training camp. He thinks Ward has the smarts to figure it out, but it will still involve some serious catch-up work. Although Ward is likely to get his most significant action covering slot receivers, Fangio did mention how he was going to be learning both that and safety. The 49ers have solid starters at safety in Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea, but their depth is questionable. Craig Dahl struggled when he replaced Reid last season, and C.J. Spillman focuses mostly on special teams. Ward could become an even more important part of the secondary because of that.
For now, Ward will learn as much as he can from the players around him. The 49ers have their mandatory minicamp next week, and while he'll be in attendance, he probably will not be all that involved on the field. We'll have to wait for training camp to see just where he stands.