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49ers must decide to start Jimmie Ward or Tarvarius Moore in Week 5

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49ers must decide to start Jimmie Ward or Tarvarius Moore in Week 5

SANTA CLARA -- Free safety Tarvarius Moore has experienced some difficulties while starting the first three games of the season, 49ers general manager John Lynch acknowledged.

And with Jimmie Ward returning from a broken finger that required surgery, the 49ers face a decision in their defensive backfield on Monday night when the club returns from the bye week to face the Cleveland Browns at Levi’s Stadium.

The 49ers must consider whether to move Ward into the starting role at the position the 49ers refer to as the “eraser” ahead of Moore, who spent his entire rookie season at cornerback before moving back to his more natural position this offseason.

“Tarvarius Moore, although he’s had his struggles, he’s brought speed to our defense,” Lynch said during an appearance on KNBR. “Now we get Jimmie Ward back.”

Moore started the first three games in place of Ward. He had a key pass breakup at the goal line in Week 1 against Tampa Bay. (Moore dropped the possible interception, which could have turned into a touchdown going the other way.)

But Moore has also taken bad angles that resulted in a 66-yard touchdown pass to Cincinnati’s John Ross and a 76-yard touchdown for Pittsburgh’s JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Ward was projected as the 49ers’ starting free safety before sustaining a fractured finger in practice that required surgery before the regular-season opener. Ward has missed 24 games the past four seasons due to injuries. But the 49ers love his versatility, his fit for the system and how hard he plays.

“Jimmie’s always the wild card because Jimmie can help us at really every single position except for maybe D-Line, but I’m sure he’d find a way to do that,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He’s healthier now than he has been. He’s been healthy, but his cast has gotten smaller, so it’s a lot easier for him to go this week. He’s got the possibility to play at any spot. We’ll see how practice goes and where we want to put him.”

After the 49ers recorded just two interceptions last season -- the worst single-season mark in the history of the NFL – the only moves the club made in the secondary were re-signing Ward, signing Jason Verrett and drafting Tim Harris. Ward has yet to play. Verrett played just four ineffective snaps before going on injured reserve, and Harris opened the season on IR.

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Instead, the 49ers addressed their pass rush, showing that the organization felt strongly about the defensive backs already on the roster – players such as Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon, Jaquiski Tartt, Emmanuel Moseley, D.J. Reed and Moore.

“We like the pieces,” Lynch said. “I know a lot of people wondered about what we’re going to do there, but I think hopefully the early returns have been good why we were so confident with that group.”

49ers hopeful receiver Jalen Hurd will be cleared for offseason program

49ers hopeful receiver Jalen Hurd will be cleared for offseason program

INDIANAPOLIS -- Even before the 49ers have the opportunity to select a wide receiver in the draft, the club expects to add the services of a young pass-catcher.

Jalen Hurd, a third-round draft pick from a year ago, appears to be on schedule to receive clearance to rejoin the 49ers when the offseason program begins in April. Hurd spent his rookie season on injured reserve due to a stress fracture in his lower back.

“For it to completely heal, it happens on different timelines,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “We found that his has been stubborn. We think he’s been nearing towards a much better place where he’ll be cleared for all activities.

“(We) don’t want to officially give that word, but there have been some recent scans and things that give us a lot of hope that that’ll be the case, come April 1, he’ll be a full-go.”

Hurd was not around the team too much during his rookie season. He did not travel to Miami for Super Bowl LIV due to concerns about aggravating his back condition.

“I think there’s a little anxiety on his part that the long plane rides had set him off before and he worked so hard to try to get right, and kind of didn’t want that to enter the equation,” Lynch said.

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In order for Hurd's back to heal, the 49ers and Hurd felt it was best to keep him off his feet.  

“With his back stuff, he didn’t want to travel, didn’t want to be in the meetings and everything," head coach Kyle Shanahan said. "There wasn’t much to do. He had a stress fracture and it’s taking a long time to heal, so we wanted him to be as immobile as possible.”

Hurd (6-foot-4, 227 pounds) caught 69 passes for 946 yards and four touchdowns in his senior season at Baylor in 2018. He played his first three college seasons at Tennessee, where he rushed for 2,635 yards and 20 touchdowns as a running back.

Hurd appeared in the 49ers’ preseason opener last summer and caught two touchdown passes against the Dallas Cowboys before experiencing the back condition that sidelined him for the rest of the season.

George Kittle's secret to Kyle Shanahan's wife gets back to 49ers coach

George Kittle's secret to Kyle Shanahan's wife gets back to 49ers coach

INDIANAPOLIS -- Coach Kyle Shanahan escaped to Cabo San Lucas shortly after the 49ers’ Super Bowl loss to get away from it all.

Shanahan ended up “randomly” spending time with 49ers players George Kittle, Nick Mullens, Trent Taylor and Levine Toilolo, who also went to Mexico for a vacation and some golf.

"I think we broke a record," Shanahan said Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "We played like nine holes in five hours."

Kittle, an All-Pro tight end, is in line for a massive contract extension this offseason. This is the first time he can renegotiate a new contract after coming to the 49ers as a fifth-round draft pick in 2017.

The next time Kittle steps on the field with the 49ers, he is expected to have a new deal that will make him the highest-paid tight end in the league.

He might have given away some of his negotiating power while confiding in Mandy Shanahan, Kyle’s wife.

“He told my wife how much he liked it here (with the 49ers),” Shanahan said. “He even told my wife to promise not to tell me until after he signs. She told me. She’s my wife.”

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Kittle made base salaries of $465,000, $555,000 and $645,000 in his first three NFL seasons. His salary is scheduled to increase to $2.144 million in 2020 with a performance bonus. His next contract is expected to worth more than $12 million per season.

Kittle was selected to the Pro Bowl for the second time last season. He caught 85 passes for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns. In 2018, Kittle set the NFL single-season record for a tight end with 1,377 receiving yards.