49ers

Jimmie Ward has learned lessons, is showing why 49ers wanted him back

Jimmie Ward has learned lessons, is showing why 49ers wanted him back

SANTA CLARA – Jimmie Ward applied a lesson he learned from his second NFL game to help the 49ers preserve a 20-7 victory over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.

On the night Levi’s Stadium opened for its first regular-season game in 2014, Ward struggled as the 49ers’ nickel back against Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall in the 49ers’ 28-20 loss. Ward, the 49ers' first-round draft pick that year, yielded three touchdown passes to Marshall, who was six inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than Ward.

“He was a good wide receiver,” Ward recalled at his locker this week. “I didn’t know how to play a bigger wide receivers at the time. That was a good learning experience. I say that was a bad game, but when I watch film now, it was a learning game. I learned so much. Any time I get beat, I’m learning from it. Look at this year right now, getting beat in previous years in man coverage got me better for this opportunity this year.”

On Sunday, the 49ers’ offense left the door open for the Rams with a turnover in the fourth quarter. But Ward broke up back-to-back passes on third and fourth downs on short throws from Jared Goff intended for tight end Gerald Everett and wide receiver Cooper Kupp – two players significantly larger than Ward.

“The experiences of getting beat in years before, different body receivers compared to tight ends -- you got to play them guys different ways,” Ward said. “You got to know where your help’s at on the defense. What I struggled with over the years was just not using my help, too. I can’t play every guy the same. I can’t play a guy that’s twice my size aggressive. That’s suicide. He can out-body you, out-jump you. You got to play smart.”

Ward is back in the starting lineup at free safety after healing from a broken ring finger on his right hand, an injury he sustained before the season opener. Tarvarius Moore started the first three games.

In his two games back, Ward has shown exactly why the 49ers have continued to have a high opinion of his temperament, tenacity and skill despite his history of injuries.

Four of Ward’s five NFL seasons ended with him going to injured reserve with broken bones. Then after signing a one-year, prove-it contract to return to the 49ers, he fractured his collarbone, which kept him out of the first part of training camp. Then, the broken finger and subsequent surgery sidelined him at the start of the regular season.

Ward said he never took it for granted the 49ers would want to bring him back after the club won just 10 games combined over the past two seasons. But even after Ward sustained a second season-ending forearm fracture in two years, the club wanted him back. Coach Kyle Shanahan and the entire coaching staff did not want Ward to play anywhere else but with the 49ers.

“Especially during losing seasons, nobody’s safe,” Ward said. “Like, not even the people who are working around the building. They might replace them. I never thought I was safe. I always believed in working. So that’s what it is.

“That’s why I’m hurtin’ because I’m workin’. I wouldn’t get hurt if I wasn’t workin’. I wouldn’t get hurt if I wasn’t putting it all out there on the line. I’d be OK. I’d come out with no nicks and no bruises.”

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While those who play with him, coach him and are around him every day universally have high opinions of Ward as an unselfish player and person, there is a segment of the fans who have taken to social media platforms to show a lack of empathy for all of his injuries.

Now, of course, Ward is receiving praise for the contributions he made in the victories over the Cleveland Browns and the Rams.

Ward has been through enough to know that things can change in a hurry.

“It’s cool, but it’s not going to get me a ring,” he said.

"Faithful, 49ers fans, I love them to death. Keep cheering. We need you at those games. Keep buying those tickets ... I’ve been playing hard, I’ve been breaking bones without people gassing me and when people tell me I’m a bust and I suck, so it’s cool. I appreciate it, but at the same time, it means nothing. It’s just like being 5-0 right now. We haven’t done anything, yet. We got to do something first.”

Kentavius Street, Jason Verrett only 49ers options to return from IR

Kentavius Street, Jason Verrett only 49ers options to return from IR

SANTA CLARA -- The list of 49ers on injured reserve who remain as possibilities to return to play later this season has seemingly been reduced to the maximum number of two.

Coach Kyle Shanahan has essentially ruled out the possibilities of wide receivers Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd from playing this season.

That leaves defensive lineman Kentavius Street and cornerback Jason Verrett as the only players who have chances of being activated off injured reserve before the end of the season.

“Those are guys that are working hard to get back and if we definitely had an injury at a certain spot, we’d probably make that decision sooner than later,” Shanahan said.

Shanahan said the 49ers intend to get both players on the practice field to give them chances to earn their way back onto the team’s 53-man roster.

Each NFL team is allowed to bring two players off injured reserve to return to action in the same season. Once a player begins practice, the club has a maximum of three weeks to activate the player to the 53-man roster, keep the player on injured reserve for the entirety of the season or release the player.

Taylor sustained a Jones fracture in his right foot in the second week of training camp and underwent surgery before the team’s first preseason game. He experienced complications from the surgery that have prevented him from being available at any point this season.

Hurd, a third-round draft pick from Baylor, had an impressive preseason debut against the Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 10 with two touchdown receptions but he has not appeared in a game since due to a stress reaction in his back. Shanahan suggested on Monday that Hurd will remain on injured reserve for the remainder of his rookie season.

“I don’t know if we’ve 100-percent ended that, but it has not been looking good, so that’s kind of out of sight, out of mind for me right now,” Shanahan said. “We might have more of an answer on that later in this week to just finalize that.”

When asked if that meant that Hurd would remain on injured reserve, Shanahan answered, “Yes, ultimately, that he won’t return. But, yeah, I know it’s been week-to-week here. We’ve been thinking about it, and I’m not thinking about it right now.”

[RELATED: 49ers' Dee Ford could miss a couple games, coach Kyle Shanahan says]

Street and Verrett are eligible to begin practice, but the 49ers might wait until Week 14, Shanahan said.

Street sat out his entire rookie season after sustaining a torn ACL in a pre-draft workout. He underwent a follow-up arthroscopic knee surgery in late-August that landed him on injured reserve. The 49ers selected Street in the fourth round of the 2018 draft out of North Carolina State.

The 49ers placed Verrett, 28, on injured reserve on Oct. 3 with a knee condition after he appeared in one game this season. The 49ers signed Verrett to a one-year contract in the offseason.

Shanahan said Street and Verrett remain as options to return to the active roster this season if the 49ers need another defensive lineman or cornerback due to injuries later in the season.

“They’re getting healthy,” Shanahan said. “I think both of them are going to have an opportunity to do that. It’s not something we’d do right now, but definitely could be an option if we have any injuries at either of those positions.”

Jerry Rice predicts 49ers go undefeated vs. Packers, Ravens, Saints

Jerry Rice predicts 49ers go undefeated vs. Packers, Ravens, Saints

For the second straight week, the end of a 49ers game came down to the wire. On Sunday, however, San Francisco bounced back with a wild 36-26 win over the Cardinals after a heartbreaking loss to the Seahawks the week before. 

The back half of the 49ers' schedule continues to get tougher, too, starting with a clash against the Packers this Sunday. It doesn't get any easier after that. 

The 49ers are ramping up for an incredibly tough three-game stretch against the Packers (8-2), Ravens (8-2) and Saints (8-2), with the final two being on the road. Jerry Rice isn't worried, though. 

"They gonna win them all," Rice predicted Monday on 95.7 The Game

Rice has continued to claim the 49ers will win the Super Bowl throughout this season. Even after showing cracks in their armor against the Seahawks and Cardinals, he isn't wavering. 

The greatest to ever catch a football believes in this year's 49ers. 

"The Niners are going to do it, man," Rice continued. "I'm serious. They're going to find a way. Yeah, they've got a big task coming up with the Packers, but this team is going to rise to the occasion, and they're going to get the job done."

[RELATED: Where 49ers stand in hopes of earning top seed in NFC]

Rice says the key to beating the Packers will be a fast start from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the rest of the 49ers. While Jimmy G joined Joe Montana and Steve Young in record books against Arizona with over 400 yards passing and four touchdowns, he threw two more interceptions. 

If Garoppolo and the rest of the 49ers get sloppy in a heated battle with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, it could be a long night at Levi's Stadium to start this three-game stretch against serious contenders. Rice, for one, doesn't seem too concerned about that.