We all know the San Francisco 49ers had to halt practice on Wednesday due to poor field conditions, and we also know that they're now working on them. But there were a few things of note from the practice session they did manage to get in. One that was particularly interesting to me was noted by Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, and it concerns the nickel cornerback position, and the battle going on between Perrish Cox and Jimmie Ward:
Who is the team's top option at nickel cornerback? It's been hard to decipher because one of the candidates, Perrish Cox, has been starting at cornerback while Brock has dealt with an ankle injury. That has allowed first-round draft pick Jimmie Ward to get plenty of repetitions with the first-string unit as he did Sunday against Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
Well, Brock was back today and Ward was still on the field when the first-team defense was in its nickel package. Let's see if that holds during the upcoming game.
The last bit there is the intriguing part. Obviously, when the 49ers spent a first-round pick on Ward, a safety, Twitter immediately blew up with folks talking about him being the nickel cornerback. Still, nothing is guaranteed, and he obviously has to earn the role. San Francisco uses an awful lot of nickel and I'd consider the nickel guy a starter, especially with this team.
Perrish Cox was once one of the most promising cornerback prospects out there. He obviously had his off-the-field issues and was out of the league for awhile, but the 49ers continue to give him chances. By all accounts, he's looked fine in place of Tramaine Brock for the most part, so it's somewhat surprising that Ward is maintaining his spot now that Brock is back.
Then again, the two positions are very different, and perhaps the 49ers like Cox as more of a dime guy and a backup to the starting spots. Maybe Ward is just better at the position. Maybe it's hard to tell and we're all speculating and we should just wait until the next preseason game. Maybe we should all just panic. Panicking generally seems like the thing to do.
In all seriousness, I think this is a good sign for Ward. Jeff Deeney of Pro Football Focus sent out this Tweet on Thursday, noting that Ward and Dontae Johnson, both rookies, have played the most snaps of any 49ers defensive backs this preseason. Johnson has looked solid at times, though he has been beat pretty spectacularly once or twice. Whatever the case, it's good to see as much of these guys as possible.