When the San Francisco 49ers selected Jimmie Ward with the 30th pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, the team thought it could have a long-term solution in the secondary. It didn’t look that way throughout Ward’s first two seasons.
The 29-year-old sat behind Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid on the depth chart at the free safety position, and it looked like he was going to be a bust after starting only eight games in his first two years with the Niners.
In 2016, Ward earned a starting role as a cornerback, but the 49ers were bad in every aspect of football, finishing with a 2-14 record in Chip Kelly’s lone-season as head coach. When Robert Saleh took over as defensive coordinator in 2017, he decided it would be best to move Warn back to his original position, a move that paid long-term dividends.
Injuries forced Ward to miss parts of the 2017 and 2018 seasons, but he finally played up to his potential in 2019. Ward started 13 games for the Niners last year, racking up 65 tackles, including two for a loss, and a sack. Pro Football Focus gave Ward a 84.2 grade in 2019, as he helped solidify the Niners’ defense as one of the best in the NFL.
Ward caught up with the media and opened up about the Super Bowl loss, getting ready for the 2020 season, and how the 49ers can repeat their success from a year ago.
On management not adding any significant pieces to the secondary this offseason:
Just helps out a lot, you know? Since we’ve been back, I just feel like we’ve just been working on chemistry and just all our defensive checks and I just feel like it’s gonna play a big role in this upcoming season.
On if he has rewatched the Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs?
Yeah, it took me a while until I finally watched it. Probably a month or two. I watched the game 10 to 20 times. I just feel like you just got to get over it. Just think about how you can get better until you know game one.
On how Jason Verrett has looked so far:
He looks very focused. looks ready to. He’s probably anxious. I could feel his vibe. He’s anxious to get back on the field, just to show people what he can do because you know, he’s a former Pro Bowler You know, he came out in the draft with me so I know, I was watching him since college. I know what he can do is just all about just going out on the field and just staying consistent with it.
On the difference in coaching styles between Tony Oden and Joe Woods:
I don’t really like to compare coaches. I feel like all the coaches bring something new to the table. I like him, he’s more aggressive. But he’s really fundamentally sound too. I like his energy so far. But as of right now, where should we all still learn each other since there was no OTA. We’re trying to build chemistry.
On if he is preparing to play multiple positions again with COVID-19 disrupting a regular offseason:
Not that I know of. I know last time I checked, I signed a contract to play safety. But, you know, if anything happens, I gotta be open-minded. I got to do what it’s whatever best for the team but as of right now just feel like we got a lot of great corners that can fill in those spots in the voids if something goes wrong and also with the nickel spot too.
On lessons he has learned from the Super Bowl loss:
Whenever you pay to play the Chiefs make sure everybody runs to the ball. I feel like we were doing a pretty good job of that but you gotta run to the ball. Yeah, they got a lot of fast guys. Some guys who can get some YAC, scrambling quarterback. It’s all about the finish. We went out there, a very great half even up to the fourth quarter, even the last five minutes. It’s just we didn’t finish and they seemed like they ended up wanting it more than us and that’s why they won the game.
On getting over the Super Bowl loss:
Right now my teammates and they say you know they want to get back to that you know the spot and win it, that’s obviously that’s what everybody in the NFL every team wants to do, get to the Super Bowl and win it. But, my approach is more just to take it one day at a time, one game at a time. I’ve been in that position so I see what it takes. I can’t look past this first game. I can’t look past tomorrow’s practice. I just got to do everything the right way and just try to keep the same routine what kind of helped me be successful in the previous season and hopefully that can put it all together this season.
On if he would be comfortable playing at corner again?
Hopefully, I stay at safety. That’s the game plan. Too early to even tell, but as of right now I feel like you know, that’s what we talked about. I talked to my coaches I talked to John, talked to Kyle, safety is the move.
On how Tim Harris has looked so far:
Oh, he’s a big physical corner. A pretty athletic too. I saw some great plays flashes of him last year in camp before he ends up going down with the injury. But, I’m pretty sure he’s gonna do even better this year. He’s just stacking up days and you know, just learning our defense even more. I just feel like it’s gonna be a great season for him whenever he gets that opportunity.
On which players have stood out during practice?
I can’t really single-handedly say anybody, anyone, right now. But, I feel like whoever’s in is going to play up to par, because you only have to do your job. We have the same defense coming back, minus Buck. We got DJ, and DJ was doing a phenomenal job before he ended up going down his injury last year. He didn’t lose a step. Trust me, he’s flying off the ball. And we have some more pieces. We kind of got the whole routine down last year and it’s just all the younger guys, you know, they’re just following suit. So, that’s what it’s all about, you know, you know, set the example and other guys will follow.