49ers Jimmie Ward back at his ‘natural position’


Jimmie Ward’s ability to practice back-to-back days was a positive sign Thursday, and he doesn’t think he’s behind the learning curve at free safety, having practiced that position through the offseason program.

San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmie Ward (25) celebrates a turnover against the San Diego Chargers in the third quarter of their preseason NFL game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) 

He also is confident he doesn’t need any refreshers on tackling, something he might not be able to do until the Sept. 10 regular-season opener if the 49ers keep him out the final two exhibitions, including Sunday’s at Minnesota.

“It’s only a concern to people who don’t know I can play safety,” Ward said. “To me, I feel comfortable. It’s my natural position.”

Ward played cornerback last season after mainly lining up as the nickel back against slot receivers his first two years as the 49ers’ 2014 first-round draft pick.

In preparing himself for the new role, Ward also has studied up on the 49ers’ season-opening opponent, the Carolina Panthers, who visit Levi’s Stadium on Sept. 10.

“Since the schedule came out and I knew who I had to play, I’ve been watching Cam Newton, watching his eyes, watching who he targets the most, watching the tight end, watching the new running back they just drafted (Stanford’s Christian McCaffrety) and his college film to see what type of ballcarrier he is,” Ward said. “I’ve been doing a lot of homework.”

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh says that Ward’s instincts will help his move to free safety, but one aspect remains unknown.

“The hardest part is being able to track and tackle,” Saleh said. “Coming out of the middle hole, when the defense gets creased and it’s him and the back one on one. That’s the hardest tackle in football in my opinion. Those are the reps that he hasn’t gotten.”

“I was always taught when I was young to close as much space as possible as fast as you can,” Ward said. “That’s so important because if you miss an angle, that can be a touchdown.”

— Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, hindered in recent weeks by an ankle injury, practiced for a second straight day. Said Buckner: “I feel I’ve been missing out on a lot in working on my technique. It’s very frustrating not bein gout there. I understand the training staff and team are being cautious. But personally, it’s a struggle.”

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) scrambles against San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Tank Carradine (95) in the first quarter at Levi's Stadium Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group)
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) scrambles against San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Tank Carradine (95) in the first quarter at Levi’s Stadium Friday, Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Jim Gensheimer/Bay Area News Group) 

— Defensive tackle Tank Carradine’s ability to face off against tight ends at the line of scrimmage earned high praise from Saleh.

“He’s damn near an elite six-technique,” Saleh said. “To be able to create pocket push from an edge, I think that’s where his home is. There’s no shame in that, I think he’s pretty freaking good at it. That’s where Tank’s strength is.



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