Even though it was his eighth season in the NFL, it felt like a coming-out party for 49ers’ safety Jimmie Ward. His personality began to show on and off the field, and that confident demeanor really spread to the other 49ers’ defenders.
This past offseason, San Francisco’s defensive backfield went through a bit of an overhaul, letting long-time safety Jaquiski Tartt walk in free agency while adding veteran corner Charvarius Ward. Overnight, the former first-round pick became the veteran in the room with the most experience in DeMeco Ryans’ system.
Ward has embraced that role, becoming a vocal leader and bringing along the youth in the 49ers’ secondary during training camp. 49ers’ defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans spoke at length on Wednesday about Ward’s impact as a leader:
“You see Jimmie [Ward] becoming a true leader. When I first got here, Jimmie didn’t say much on the field, but I can see him now being in more of that leadership role. He has some younger guys that are back there with him now, but you see him becoming more vocal when it’s talking to the team or it’s bringing up the defense, he’s becoming more of that vocal leader.”
Following Ryans’ comments, Ward met with Bay Area media on Wednesday and added some extra insight into his duties as a vocal leader, including challenging his offensive counterparts in Brandon Aiyuk and Trey Lance.
The 49ers’ veteran safety mentioned that the defense had been purposefully trying to get the best out of the third-year receiver, which includes verbally and physically challenging him to be the best player he can be.
While he’s taken a competitive approach to bring the best out of Aiyuk, Ward has gone the mentor route with Lance, as they happen to be locker mates. Ward mentions that he and Lance chat a lot about what they see on the practice field, defensive looks, coverages, pressures, etc., and really push each other to be the best version of themselves on the field.
There’s no surprise why the 49ers’ coaching staff — or whoever is in charge of locker placement — decided to put the young, inexperienced starting quarterback next to the old head of the room.
Just a few seasons ago, many on the outside questioned why the 49ers decided to sign Jimmie Ward to an extension coming off of injuries and a lack of production. In the last few seasons, he’s become one of the pivotal parts of the 49ers’ defense, stabilizing the back-end when he’s on the field but also turning into one of the team’s vocal leaders.
Heading into 2022, Ward’s taken that one step further, mentoring some of the young offensive playmakers and showing them the ropes. The former first-rounder is heading into the final year of his contract and the way he’s carried himself in training camp so far shows you how valuable he to this defense and team.