Jimmie Ward has become the San Francisco 49ers jack of all trades of the team. Upon being drafted, he was trained as a nickel corner, switched back to his college position of safety when Robert Saleh became defensive coordinator, and is now moving back to cornerback. The team picked up his fifth year option at $8.5 million, so it goes to show they value his versatility around the field.
He also may be starting the season on the bench. For now, he’s working at the corner position in place of Richard Sherman while the latter finishes their rehab on their ankle injuries. Once Sherman takes the field, the competition for cornerback begins and Ward may be the odd man out.
Robert Saleh indicated that Ward is competing for the cornerback role.
He is going to play corner and he’s going to get reps and he’s going to compete. I know it sounds like coach speak, but the two best corners will play corner. Do I doubt Sherm will return to form? No, I don’t doubt it at all. I think he’s going to come back and he’s going to play great and there’s going to be really good competition.
Saleh also confirmed that Ward hasn’t been taking reps at either nickel corner or safety by extension. It’s not out of the possibility that he gets reps at the position, but Saleh is more concerned with Ward re-learning the corner position in his defense.
When you’re trying to get somebody acclimated to a position, they need reps. It’s very hard to ask a guy to play corner, nickel when he needs to get re-acclimated to playing corner again. Jimmie is a very, very talented football player and he’s doing a lot of great things, but there’s an adjustment period. He’s got to re-learn a position, so we want to make sure that we give him every opportunity to do that.
There’s not a doubt in my mind Ward will eventually get a rep or two at safety or nickel corner because he’s the first off the bench for any of those positions. In essence, the 49ers are paying for high production at three spots without the need to have three different players as backups (hence saving roster spots for other positions). They are paying to have three backups in one with Ward, and one that’s extremely versatile.