49ers

Safeties Ward, Tartt appear to fit within 49ers' scheme

Safeties Ward, Tartt appear to fit within 49ers' scheme

The 49ers have spent the past four weeks evaluating the roster general manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan inherited.

Lynch, a nine-time Pro Bowl safety and Hall of Fame finalist, not surprisingly has spent a lot of time looking at the players the 49ers have at the position he played.

In the new Seattle-based defensive scheme under new coordinator Robert Saleh, the 49ers will play a lot of single-high safety. They are looking for someone who can track the ball and make plays in center field.

Lynch said the 49ers will certainly consider moving Jimmie Ward back to the deep middle after he started 10 games last season at right cornerback. He missed four starts with a quad injury and was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

“Just being completely honest, we think he’s a good scheme fit for what we’re doing at the free-safety position,” Lynch said at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

“But we don’t know that until you put him there. It’s projecting. We think his traits, his skills, translate very well to that, but it’s such an instinct position, I think you really have to give him – and we’re kind of excited – to give him an offseason to say, ‘Let’s give this a go.’”

Ward saw action exclusively as the 49ers’ nickel back in his first two seasons after the organization selected him with the No. 30 overall selection in the 2014 draft.

Lynch said the 49ers will strongly consider Ward to be primarily a safety, but he could also see action in other spots, too.

“That doesn’t preclude him from playing nickel in some situations, or moving around,” Lynch said. “I think he brings some great versatility. But that is something we’re exploring and we will explore this offseason.”

Ward played four seasons at Northern Illinois, where he was used in a variety of roles. He recorded four career interceptions (three as a junior, one as a sophomore) and broke up 10 passes .

“Frankly, I haven’t watched a lot of his college tape because I wasn’t doing this then,” Lynch said. “I will. Right now, we’ve been just studying him for what he’s done the last couple of years on the 49ers. We’re excited about what he brings to us as a player wherever he’s playing.”

The 49ers believe Jaquiski Tartt has a chance to fit well into the new scheme. Tartt (6 foot 1, 221 pounds) started 14 of the 30 games in which he appeared in his first two NFL seasons. Under the previous defensive coordinators, Eric Mangini and Jim O’Neil, the system asked the safeties to perform a wide array of functions. The new defense is designed to accentuate the strengths the safeties without asking them to do too much, which should enable Tartt to play to his strengths.

If the 49ers pattern their defense after Seattle's, Ward would play a style similar to Earl Thomas, while Tartt could potentially fill the role of Kam Chancellor.

Eric Reid, who is scheduled to play under the fifth-year option this season, has started all 57 games in which he appeared over the past four seasons since being the No. 18 overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Veteran Antoine Bethea is also currently on the 49ers’ depth chart at safety. Bethea, who turns 33 in July, is an 11-year veteran who was the 49ers’ leader with 110 tackles last season.

Remaining healthy and productive is a stretch for 49ers tight end Kittle

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AP

Remaining healthy and productive is a stretch for 49ers tight end Kittle

Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch spoke separately in February about the need for 49ers tight end George Kittle to find a way to remain healthy.

It’s a reasonable concern. After all, Kittle sustained a hamstring injury on the third day of training camp. He was treated for injuries to his hip, chest, elbow, back, leg and ankle during the season.

Through it all, Kittle missed just one game due to an ankle injury and came through with an impressive rookie season after being chosen in the fifth round of last year’s draft from Iowa.

Kittle ranked second in the NFL among rookies in receiving yards last season. His 43 catches for 515 yards were the most by any rookie NFL tight end drafted after the fourth round.

The future is bright. But – as Shanahan and Lynch were pick to point out at the NFL scouting combine – Kittle must find a way to avoid injuries. Kittle addressed his offseason training regimen during the 49ers Insider Podcast.

“I was banged up a little bit,” Kittle said. “I did a whole offseason of just preparing my body -- a lot of band work -- to get my body used to hard hits and stuff like that. I did as much stretching as I could because the more flexible you are, the less likely you are to pull something.”

Kittle said no player can ever eliminate the possibility of injuries, but he took steps he believes will give him a better chance to remain able to perform.

“I think you can protect against some injuries,” Kittle said. “You can’t protect against, you’re running an outside zone and a guy falls down behind you onto your ankle or something. You can’t control stuff like that.

“I think a lot of it is luck of the draw, in my opinion. But there are things you can do to help yourself. If a stiff guy gets hit from behind, his likelihood of getting hurt is probably higher than a guy who’s super-limber.”

As a tight end, Kittle has to balance building up the weight and strength required to block defensive ends, while also remaining light enough to run pass patterns against defensive backs.

Kittle is currently in the same situation as quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and C.J. Beathard, as each is going through his first full offseason program with the 49ers in Santa Clara.

“They’re both fantastic quarterbacks,” Kittle said.

Beathard, a college teammate of Kittle, started five games last season.

“He proved his toughness, taking hits, getting up, making plays,” Kittle said of Beathard.

In the final five games with Garoppolo at quarterback, Kittle caught 15 passes for 224 yards. He caught four passes for 100 yards in the season finale against the Los Angeles Rams to become the first 49ers rookie tight end since Monty Stickles in 1960 to have 100 yards receiving in a game.

Kittle praised Garoppolo for his leadership and his uncanny ability to locate the open man.

“It’s fun because you know you’re going to get the ball,” Kittle said. “He sees the whole field at all times.”

Garoppolo getting to know new 49ers teammates without coaches around

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AP

Garoppolo getting to know new 49ers teammates without coaches around

Although the first two weeks of the NFL offseason program are limited to strength and conditioning training, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has already gotten an opportunity to play with a couple of his new toys.

Garoppolo has taken part in throwing sessions during the week at the team’s facility, where coaches are not allowed on the field with the players until next week. On the weekends, he has organized additional activities with his teammates at a park in the South Bay.

“We had our first one this weekend,” Garoppolo said on Monday at Levi’s Stadium after another day of workouts. “It’s just something that I like to do. It kinds of gets us away from the coaches and everything, and allows me to talk to the receivers about specific things, or the tight ends or running backs.

“We try to get everyone out there that we can. I understand people have things that they have to get to. But we had a great showing this Saturday. It was good. Just to be on the same page with those guys, talking through route concepts and how they see it versus how I see it. It just gets us on the same page.”

Among the players who have taken part in the sessions are wide receiver Pierre Garçon and running back Jerick McKinnon, likely to be among the team’s top pass-catchers this season.

Garoppolo’s five starts with the 49ers came after Garçon was sidelined with a neck injury after eight games. Garçon was on pace for a 1,000-yard season before going on injured reserve. The 49ers targeted McKinnon as an upgrade over Carlos Hyde due to his playmaking ability, including catching passes out of the backfield.

McKinnon and center Weston Richburg were players the 49ers front office heavily pursued and signed on the first day of free agency. They were the first major pieces the 49ers added after signing Garoppolo to a five-year, $137.5 million contract in February.

“Those are good guys,” Garoppolo said. “They fit what we’re trying to do here and they work hard, so when you bring that to the table, it’s always good.”

Garoppolo is continuing in his first offseason with the 49ers something he said he began during his days at Rolling Meadows High School in a northwest suburb of Chicago.

”It’s one of those things, when the coaches aren’t there you kind of see a different side of guys,” Garoppolo said. “They open up a little bit or tell you how they see a concept compared to how it is written in the book. Just a little bit at a time for us to talk through things, I guess.”