49ers

Arik Armstead looking forward to playing aggressive style on 49ers' D-line

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Arik Armstead looking forward to playing aggressive style on 49ers' D-line

Arik Armstead enters his fifth NFL season finally secure in the knowledge that not only he knows where he fits best along the 49ers’ defensive line, but his coaches also have a handle on his role.

“It’s kind of unfortunate with injuries early in my career, and new coaches coming in, we have this guy who can do X, Y and Z, but he hasn’t been on the field to go through a whole season to lock down a position,” Armstead said on the 49ers Insider Podcast.

“But I think now having a whole year, having a coaching staff for three years now, playing in the same scheme, I think my coaches know me a lot better. They know what I can do and they know how to use me.”

Armstead figures to line up at “big end” in the 49ers’ base defense. He is best-suited for playing the five-technique, lining up on the outside shoulder of an opposing offensive lineman or in the “wide nine,” in which he moves to the outside of the tight end.

“And on third down I’m an inside, dominant pass-rusher rushing against guards,” Armstead said. “That’s kind of the game plan they have for me.”

Armstead figures to benefit from the teachings of new defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, whom the 49ers hired shortly after the end of the season when the Miami Dolphins fired coach Adam Gase and did not retain most of his coaching staff.

“There are read defenses and there are attacking defenses,” Armstead said. “He really wants us to attack and get off the ball and establish a new line of scrimmage and be violent and physical out there and kind of wreak havoc. So that’s the mentality that he’s preaching and how he wants us to play.”

After struggling with shoulder and hand injuries in 2016 and ’17 that limited him to just 14 games and 10 starts in those two seasons, Armstead started all 16 games last season. He was constantly moved around on the defensive line in his first three NFL seasons.

"Yeah, I definitely felt that frustration, being moved around,” Armstead said.

“As a D-lineman, you’re moved around a lot. I think I’m versatile, so I think when there’s much expected out of you, much is required.”

With more of a defined role last season, Armstead recorded a career-best 48 tackles and three sacks. He proved to be a dominant defender against the run, and has the potential to break out as a pass-rusher. The 49ers picked up his fifth-year option, paying him more than $9 million for the upcoming season.

[RELATED: 49ers to give consideration to Quinnen Williams at No. 2 overall]

DeForest Buckner recorded 12 sacks last season, and the 49ers acquired outside pass rusher Dee Ford in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. The 49ers are likely to use the No. 2 overall draft pick to select another top pass-rush threat.

“I’m going to be productive when I’m on the field and get pressure and get sacks and do my job,” Armstead said. “It’s going to make it a lot easier having a lot of talent around me.”

49ers' George Kittle rated as top tight end in NFL, per Sporting News

49ers' George Kittle rated as top tight end in NFL, per Sporting News

Who is the best tight end in the NFL?

Well, believe it or not, 49ers GM John Lynch isn't 100 percent confident saying George Kittle deserves that title.

Nevertheless, Sporting News declared the 25-year-old is the best guy in the league at the position -- and there is plenty to back up that statement.

Last season, the Iowa product set the 49ers franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end in a single season with 1,377. He also averaged 15.6 yards per catch, which Sporting News' Vinnie Iyer dubbed as "ridiculous." And he's not wrong. 

Kittle should benefit even more from a full season with Jimmy Garoppolo, who also will have new pass-catching weapons Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd and Jordan Matthews at his disposal. 

[RELATED: 49ers considered Ward's injury history with one-year deal]

Kittle finished his 2018 campaign with 88 receptions, five touchdowns, and well, you know the yardage.

49ers considered Jimmie Ward's injury history with one-year contract

49ers considered Jimmie Ward's injury history with one-year contract

The 49ers carefully considered the risks.

And, ultimately, they came up with a one-year, prove-it contract offer that led to versatile and hard-charging defensive back Jimmie Ward remaining with the 49ers for the start of his sixth NFL season.

“It’s not an easy answer, because there’s a long (injury) history,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. “But there’s also a very, very talented football player who I would tell you grew into a really special leader.”

Said coach Kyle Shanahan, “I love Jimmie Ward. . . . We all know he’s struggled a little bit to stay healthy. But he’s a guy, as a person, I’ll go to war with every day. I really trust and believe in, and I love him as a player, too.”

Ward missed 29 games through his first five seasons in the league.

Ward sustained a fractured collarbone while diving for a ball in a non-padded practice during organized team activities on Thursday in Santa Clara. He will undergo surgery, and the 49ers expect him to be out of action for eight to 12 weeks.

Eight weeks would place Ward as healthy a full week before the start of training camp. With a 12-week recovery (Aug. 16), the 49ers will have played one exhibition game with the second game coming up on Monday, Aug. 19, against the Denver Broncos.

Ward has now sustained broken bones in five of his six NFL seasons. The first four fractures came during the regular season and landed him on season-ending injured reserve lists.

Here is the rundown of Ward’s injury history since completing his college career at Northern Illinois:

2014

When Ward showed up at the combine, he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right foot and was not allowed to take part in any on-field testing. The injury came as a surprise to Ward, who had not experienced any pain. He felt healthy enough to run several weeks later at this pro day, where he was timed at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash.

Ward underwent surgery in March to repair the Jones fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his foot, and the 49ers drafted him with the No. 30 overall pick in the draft.

He did not take part in the offseason program as a rookie, but he appeared in each of the team's exhibition games that summer.

Ward was not active for the Week 7 game against Denver due to a quadriceps injury.

In Week 10, while making a tackle against New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, the screw bent from his March surgery in his right foot and fifth metatarsal broke again. He finished the game, but a new, larger screw had to be inserted. He was placed on injured reserve.

Games missed: 8

2015

Ward appeared on the injury report just once all season. He was listed as probable for the 49ers’ Week 15 game against Cincinnati with an elbow condition, and he played well. As the team’s nickel back, he had six tackles, a sack, two tackles for losses, and a pass defensed.

Games missed: 0

2016

Ward sustained a non-contact left quadriceps injury in Week 3 while running down the field to cover a kickoff against Seattle. He missed three games due to the injury.

In Week 11, Ward was diagnosed with a concussion, but he returned to play the following week against Miami.

In Week 15, Ward sustained a fractured right collarbone when he landed hard upon tackling Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Aldrick Robinson down the field. He was placed on injured reserve.

Games missed: 5

2017

Ward sustained a left hamstring injury in the conditioning test at the start of training camp in late-July. In late-August, he was activated off the physically-unable-to-perform list. He did not play in the preseason, and he sat out the season opener against Carolina.

While playing free safety, he fractured his left forearm in Week 8 while tackling Philadelphia tight end Trey Burton. He was placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Games missed: 9

2018

Ward missed extended time in the 49ers’ offseason program due to an ankle injury. He was bothered by a hamstring injury during training camp and left the team’s Week 3 exhibition game against Indianapolis after playing just two snaps on special teams

Ward, who was starting at cornerback, left the 49ers’ Week 6 game against Green Bay with a hamstring injury. He missed the following game against the Los Angeles Rams.

Upon moving to free safety, Ward sustained a fractured left forearm – but in a different place than a year earlier – while tackling Tampa Bay’s 225-pound running back Peyton Barber in Week 12.

The 49ers had evaluated Ward as playing better than anyone in their secondary at the time of the injury.

After the game, Ward said his injuries can be attributed to how hard he plays.

“I play physical,” Ward said. “I don’t know no other way but to play. When I’m at corner, I’m physical. Nickel, physical. Safety, physical. I’m just a tough bird.

“When it happens, it happens. I’ve been here before. I’m just going to grind and get back.”

He was placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Games missed: 7

2019

The 49ers re-signed Ward to a guaranteed one-year, $3 million contract in March. He can earn an additional $1.5 million in per-game roster bonuses.

[RELATED: Bosa to miss a few weeks of practice with hamstring injury]

The club expects Ward, if healthy, to start at free safety this season. And it was clear during an open practice on Tuesday, that his style of play is every bit as aggressive as ever. While covering rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel, Ward got physical and flung Samuel to the ground in a drill designed to be non-contact.

Ward sustained a fractured collarbone in the team’s next practice. Adrian Colbert will take over as the 49ers' first-team free safety for the remainder of the offseason program, which concludes June 13.