San Francisco 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt is listed as doubtful for Sunday's regular season finale against the St. Louis Rams. That designation is supposed to denote a 25 percent chance of playing, but I really don't see Tartt suiting up. It would be a big surprise if he played, which is a shame because I think he's shown flashes of very strong play in place of Antoine Bethea this season.
But the man who will likely be getting the start at strong safety in his place is also very interesting: Jimmie Ward.
Ward was teetering on the edge of being a bust first-round draft pick, though many already declared him as such before this season even got underway. His best games have come as a nickel cornerback and he's never impressed much in limited time as a free safety, one of the positions he played at Northern Illinois.
But over the past few weeks, Ward has been playing excellent football. He has been shutting down the receivers he's covered, his zones have been clean and effective and he doesn't look confused anymore. But the 49ers have a need at strong safety on Sunday, and Ward is the kind of player who can move around, so he's going to go there.
It wouldn't be the first time he played the position with how much the 49ers like to move defensive backs around, especially safeties. With Vic Fangio the last few seasons, free safety and strong safety did many of the same things, though it's been a bit more traditional under Eric Mangini.
That said, he's never played it for the majority of a game like he would if he started for Tartt. If he starts, then he will likely play in most, if not all, snaps on the defensive side of the ball.
I was pretty close to being ready to write Ward off myself. But he's been a lock-down cornerback over the past few weeks and I am very eager to see what he can do at the strong safety position.