SANTA CLARA – In the six months since the 49ers converted Jimmie Ward to a new position, he has established himself as the team’s top cornerback, coach Chip Kelly said on Wednesday.
“We think Jimmie is our best corner,” Kelly said on Wednesday. “He’s our best corner and our best nickel. The ability to cover man-to-man in this league is first and foremost.
“So if you ask anybody what do you want in the secondary? Everybody wants a corner before they want a safety. We think that’s Jimmie’s best position.”
The 49ers drafted Ward with the No. 30 overall pick in the 2014 draft to serve as the team’s nickel back. He was a backup safety for his first two NFL seasons.
Ward is going through the concussion protocol and his status for Sunday’s game at the Miami Dolphins is uncertain. Kelly said Ward is not an option to replace Eric Reid, who underwent season-ending surgery Tuesday to repair a torn biceps. Jaquiski Tartt will start in place of Reid for the remainder of the season.
Veteran Tramaine Brock is the only cornerback who has started every game for the 49ers this season.
“Don’t diminish anything Brock has done,” Kelly said. “But I think Jimmie is the one guy who plays all over the place. He plays in the slot. He can play nickel. He blitzes from that position. He can match up with the top receivers on the outside. He’s a rare combination.
“That versatility is what puts him at the top for us.”