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John Lynch, Kyle Shanahan looking for the 49ers’ Earl Thomas

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The 49ers have another ten days to figure out what they have with Jimmie Ward as they assess the free safety position.

The San Francisco 49ers are revamping their defense this year, and Kyle Shanahan has made it clear he is looking to bring in a Seattle Seahawks type of defense. We saw it with the hiring of Robert Saleh as defensive coordinator, and we’ve heard this regular refrain.

Last week, general manager John Lynch was asked about Jimmie Ward as the offseason workout program began. Lynch and Shanahan have both said Ward would get a look at free safety. The team does not get on the field for football drills until their voluntary minicamp next week, but they’ll have three weeks of classroom work done by the start of the 2017 NFL draft.

Lynch again said Ward will get the first crack, but he offered some thoughts on what the team is looking for out of their free safety. He was asked about possibilities in the draft, and what kind of player he would be looking for if they drafted a safety. No surprise, he referenced Earl Thomas.

“I think there’s a lot of guys in this draft. One of the really cool things for me is in the system that we’ve chosen to play, we’ve got a good road map for what you’re looking for. Not that it’s a cookie cutter, but everybody would love to find [Seattle Seahawks S] Earl Thomas. There are not many of those guys out there. And it doesn’t mean that we’re looking for a 5-9, 195 pound guy that Earl is, but we’re looking for some of those traits. It’s a credit to Earl. He’s put it out there that this is the profile that you’re looking for when you’re playing this scheme. We’re going to make this scheme our own scheme and we’re going to have some wrinkles that they don’t have, but that position’s pretty defined as to what the standard is and I think he’s done a fine job. We’re looking for that next guy.”

Late last month, our friends at Field Gulls discussed the importance of Thomas to the Seahawks defense in an article about why the 49ers should drafted Ohio State free safety Malik Hooker at No. 2.

“As evidenced by Seattle’s defensive collapse late last season without Thomas, the role of the free safety in Carroll’s defense is without a doubt the most important piece. With the strong safety playing as an eighth defender in the box on most downs, the free safety is responsible for playing essentially the role of both safeties ... or as half the deep defenders in quarters coverage.”

They talked about needing a guy who has the rare combination of athletic ability, mental processing, and football IQ. They pointed to failures when Thomas was hurt, and the lack of a safety in Gus Bradley’s defense in Jacksonville. They think Hooker could be the kind of guy who can ably fill that role in the 49ers new-look defense.

Another useful perspective comes from Chris Biderman over at Niners Wire. He’s an Ohio State alum, and had plenty to say about Hooker to the 49ers back in early March. Hooker is still raw, having only moved into the starting lineup this past year (Ohio State has some good football players!). But there is no doubting the physical tools he brings to the table.

This makes the next couple weeks critically important for the 49ers pre-draft assessments. If they think Jimmie Ward can probably handle the role, do they go corner or some other position? Or, do they go Hooker regardless and figure it out after the fact? This is where a trade down would be nice to move past that decision, but they face a tough choice.