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How Ward has gotten comfortable 'cheating' in 49ers' system

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Jimmie Ward
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SANTA CLARA -- Jimmie Ward played 16 games for only the second time in his six-year career.

He was a very good player.

But he believes he can be a lot better.

Ward, playing the free safety position, was a key reason no team in the NFL allowed fewer pass plays of 20 yards or more. However, Ward envisions himself as more of a game-changer and takeaway generator.

Ward did not register an interception last season, including the postseason. His only forced fumble came in the Super Bowl, when he jarred the ball loose from Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said Ward’s knowledge of his responsibilities within the system will allow Ward to step outside of his play-to-play assignments to put himself in positions to make more plays on the football.

“As coaches, we give our players, call it a three-foot platform,” Saleh said. “That's home base. If you don't know what you're doing, if you just stick to home base, you'll be OK.

“As a player, and as a coach, you try to find ways to make that three-foot base or five, six, seven, eight. You just keep trying to make that thing widen.”

Ward is at a spot now, Saleh said, where he can have his area of the field covered while also being able to anticipate when he can make a play outside of his specific assignment.

“That's where [Richard] Sherman's been, where he's made a living of just understanding what the playbook is asking of him, but at the same time, understanding where he can cheat within the defense to go make a play,” Saleh said. “That's what Jimmie's learning.”

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After bouncing around from safety to cornerback back to safety throughout the early portion of his career, Ward is now firmly established as a safety. His increased knowledge of the position should allow him to “cheat” within the defense without leaving him more vulnerable to allowing big plays, Saleh said.

“I think he's getting to that point,” Saleh said. “He's starting to figure all that stuff out.”