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Shanahan: Jimmie Ward will be doubtful, Ahkello Witherspoon will be up in his place

The 49ers cornerback shuffle continues.

The San Francisco 49ers will likely be without cornerback Jimmie Ward this weekend due to a hamstring injury. Head coach Kyle Shanahan made an appearance on KNBR on Friday morning and said Ward would be listed as doubtful. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, and the team is conducting a walkthrough on Friday, so he will not get in a full practice session this week.

It sounds like Ahkello Witherspoon will get the start in place of Ward. The KNBR crew asked Shanahan who would go in place of Ward, and he said Witherspoon would be “up.” Normally the “up” or “down” terms refer to active or inactive. However, he referred to Witherspoon as “down” last week when he was active but playing special teams. And so, if Ward cannot play on Sunday, it looks like Witherspoon will get the start

Shanahan said Witherspoon had a strong week of practice to earn the opportunity. It has been a rough season for Witherspoon. He had a solid rookie season last year, and that led to huge expectations with the addition of Richard Sherman. Shanahan was asked why Witherspoon has taken a step back this season.

“I’m not sure. That’s something we’re working through with him. I do think he had his best week of practice last week, which I had a good talk with Ahkello about that before the game. It was the most encouraged we had been with him, last week through practice. I think Ahkello will be there, exactly where he was at last year. I expect him to get better from that. It hasn’t happened right away, but he’s going in the right direction now and I expect it to continue.”

The 49ers secondary faces a tough test against a dynamic Rams offense. Cooper Kupp will not play, but LA still has Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods making plays. Woods leads the Rams with 36 receptions for 524 yards, while Cooks leads the team averaging 18 yards per reception.

Richard Sherman has stuck to one side of the field with regularity, and opposing quarterbacks have picked on the other side. Ward showed some signs of progress last week, but the hamstring injury means he will not get to build on it. Whomever Witherspoon ends up covering, he is certain to get tested early and often.