The San Francisco 49ers travel to play the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, and they have an important decision to make between now and then. The team activated Jimmie Ward off the PUP list on Wednesday, but they have not decided if he will play on Sunday. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said on Thursday that the coaches will talk about it later this week, “when Kyle [Shanahan] is ready.”
Ward was limited to individual drills on Wednesday, with Saleh hoping to get him more work on Thursday. Saleh said that Ward has been putting in the extra work from a mental standpoint, and the free safety later talked about studying Cam Newton to prepare for Week 1.
Ward played free safety in college, but has been focused on the cornerback role his first three seasons in the NFL. On Thursday, Saleh talked about the hardest part of the free safety job in this defense.
“Playing middle-third safety is a very instinctual position. You’ve got to be able to see it. To me, the hardest part is being able to track and tackle. Coming out of the middle hole, when the defense gets creased and it’s him and the back one on one. That’s the hardest tackle in football in my opinion. Those are the reps that he hasn’t gotten. Because, even when we’re not live every one of those reps are so important to those guys. To put themselves through that mental strain of every rep being a tackling rep. That, to me, is going to be the hardest part. To make sure that his angles, and his angles in pursuit are perfect. But, as far as the instinctual part, understanding offense and where he needs to be. I think he’ll be smooth in transition.”
I would be surprised if Ward got playing time on Sunday, but he should get extensive reps next Thursday against the Los Angeles Chargers. The question then is, will that be enough to slot him into the starting lineup ahead of Lorenzo Jerome? The 49ers have started Jerome the last two weeks, and more than likely he’ll get starting reps again on Sunday. What do the 49ers do in two weeks for the start of the season?