When the San Francisco 49ers drafted first-round pick (No.30) DB Jimmie Ward,it was initially a head scratcher for me. The 49ers drafting a safety when they already had starters in FS Eric Reid and SS Antoine Bethea, the pick made little sense at the time. However, that ideology quickly took a 180-degree turn as the 49ers said they would play him in the slot.
A huge need as the Niners need a quick, shifty, and fluid corner to cover the shiftier wide receivers of the NFL, GM Trent Baalke believes Ward can be that guy. However, he will have to earn that spot on the field if he wants to win that role. 49ers DC Vic Fangio believes the best way to learn is to “go out there and do it” and with Ward recovering from a foot injury he has yet to do that, opening the door for CB Perrish Cox and CB Darryl Morris.
Cox, played extremely well last season. From preseason to the playoffs, Cox made the most of his limited opportunities. I spoke with Cox the other day and he believes he is on par for an even better campaign in 2014. For one, he dropped his weight from 205 to 195 which allows him to be faster. A necessity in the slot role, Cox is looking the part so far in camp.
Morris known to the team as “D-Mo,” is making “slow but steady progress” according to Fangio. A small-school product that had to fight his way to the practice squad and later 53-man roster, Morris has made some nice plays on the ball so far in camp. But will he be good enough to beat Cox or Ward? I would have to say no.
Ward, is the wild-card at the moment simply due to the fact I have yet to see him on the field. He’s still learning the playbook, a huge disadvantage and challenge for any rookie to master and with his recovery timetable still in question, that’s just one more uphill battle he will have to face as training camp gets underway. From a physical make-up he has the fluid hips, ball-hawking ability, and aggressiveness to play the position, but that doesn’t mean much if he’s not on the field. Ward will have to win the coaching staff’s trust with his knowledge of the scheme and production on the field.
With training camp set to begin on July 23, we will keep you up-to-date as the camp battle for the nickel role is a three-way war between Cox, Morris, and Ward.