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Jimmie Ward, D.J. Reed flexibility could be key to safety bubble watch

The San Francisco 49ers are moving Jimmie Ward from safety to cornerback, while college CB D.J. Reed is getting safety work. Who will prove more flexible?

The San Francisco 49ers wrapped up minicamp and are now a month away from the start of training camp. The 90-man roster is just about set, although a transaction here or there would not be entirely shocking. Shortly after the draft we put together a complete roster bubble watch, and now it’s time to re-visit it. The offseason workout program did not lock in most roster spots, but it might give us some hints here and there.

Over the next two weeks, we’re going to take a look at each position, and what the bubble watch looks like. As we’ve done for a while now, the bubble watch breaks down to lock, strong bubble, weak bubble, and longshot. For some positions, we’ll have multiple players listed at strong bubble, even though not all are likely to make the roster. But the idea is that they both stand a good shot, even if it is just one of them. Additionally, this does not reflect whether or not a player will be traded. Trades can and probably will happen during training camp, but the positioning on this focuses on whether or not they’d be cut.

Running back
Wide receiver
Tight end
Offensive Line
Defensive Line

Today, we move on to the safety position.

Lock: Jaquiski Tartt, Adrian Colbert
Strong Bubble: Don Jones, Marcell Harris, Chanceller James, D.J. Reed
Weak Bubble: Antone Exum
Longshot: Terrell Williams, Corey Griffin

I included D.J. Reed on the cornerbacks, but per Matt Barrows, he also got safety work during the offseason workout program.

The 49ers kept either four or five safeties on the roster last year. Leon Hall offered some flexibility between cornerback and safety, but he was primarily a nickel back. This offseason saw the team draft Marcell Harris, sign Terrell Williams and Corey Griffin as UDFAs, and sign returning veteran Antone Exum in June.

Jaquiski Tartt and Adrian Colbert are all but locked into the two starting safety positions. Don Jones brings special teams flexibility, but is returning from tearing his ACL last year in training camp. Chanceller James also tore his ACL last summer and seemed like he had a decent shot at a roster spot at the time. Harris tore his Achilles last summer before his final college season, but should be ready to go for training camp.

Tartt and Colbert could be very capable starters for the 49ers, but the team is short-handed behind them. That would explain why Reed is getting work at safety after spending his college career playing cornerback. The team will be looking to build his versatility. Harris and James seem more like thumper types than center field types. Jimmie Ward has free safety experience as well, and while he worked at cornerback during the offseason workout program, I would not be surprised at all if the “super-sub” role we’ve discussed involves more than just cornerback opportunity.

And that’s where this bubble watch gets interesting. Barring the team bringing back Eric Reid as a utility player, Jimmie Ward could be the key to the secondary depth chart. If the 49ers decide he is worth using as a reserve at four of the five nickel defense roles (all but strong safety), that offers a lot of flexibility. But if D.J. Reed can develop into the free safety role along with slot work, that too could provide the needed flexibility. It all comes down to who can prove themselves most capable of two or more roles.