Earlier this week, I asked for people to predict who might be inactive this Sunday when the San Francisco 49ers the Carolina Panthers. It seems likely that we can include free safety Jimmie Ward on the list. He was limited in practice on Friday for a second straight day due to his hamstring injury. He joined tight end George Kittle (hamstring), and defensive end Aaron Lynch (back) on the injury report as limited.
Kyle Shanahan said on Wednesday that he wants to see Ward string together “a few good days in a row” before he’ll feel better about putting him into a game. With only one more practice this week, that would seem to preclude him from playing this week. That means either Jaquiski Tartt or Lorenzo Jerome will get the start on Sunday.
Shanahan would not say on Wednesday who would start, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh would not say on Thursday who it would be. Shanahan meets with the media Friday afternoon to close out the week, but I doubt he provides an answer on the subject.
Saleh talked about both Tartt and Jerome on Thursday. Jerome got the start in the first two preseason games, Tartt got the start in Week 3, and Adrian Colbert started the preseason finale. Most notably in all this was that the 49ers used Tartt in a more of a dime backer role in that Week 3 game, putting Jerome in at free safety in those instances. There has been plenty of talk about Tartt potentially being used like the Arizona Cardinals use Deone Bucannon, and we saw some of that in Week 3.
Saleh was asked about making that move back and forth from safety to more of a linebacker role.
“It’s hard. You’re asking a lot of a player. You’re asking them to know two different spots. But, if there’s anyone who can do it it’s him. He is a smart football player and he does everything we’ve asked. He prepares the right way. So, we’ve got great confidence in him to be able to do that.”
Tartt is the more experienced player, although he has spent more of his first two seasons as the strong safety backup. However, Jerome is a UDFA with plenty still to learn. Saleh has previously mentioned that Jerome can be a little over aggressive at times. The defensive coordinator talked about how Jerome has improved over the course of the preseason.
“His vision’s expanding so he’s starting to see more. The more they see, the more calculated they can be back there. That’s where he’s starting to get better. When you watch a guy like [Seattle Seahawks S] Earl Thomas, one play you’re like ‘How did he, he can’t do that.’ Then the next play he’s playing the middle third and you’re like, ‘How does he-?’ He just knows. When it’s run he’s two yards in the backfield. When it’s run he’s 25 yards back playing the third. So, they get to a point where they just recognize. They’ve got great play recognition. They see the big picture and they can react much faster. That’s where he’s getting better.”
The 49ers have one last day of practice to make a final decision, if they have not decided already. My guess is Tartt gets the start, but we see plenty of Jerome. The final injury report will arrive later this afternoon, and my guess is Ward gets a doubtful or out designation.