Kyle Shanahan is one of the few high-profile members of the 49ers who doesn't wear a uniform on Sundays, but if he had it his way, he'd be just like everyone else.
Well, actually, just someone else.
"We love Jimmie [Ward]," Shanahan said at his Monday press conference. "I'd wear his jersey on the sideline if I could."
Shanahan has long been a fan of the versatile defensive back, but he had extra reason to praise Ward after he was heavily involved in stifling the Rams' offense in a decisive 49ers win Sunday. He was credited with six solo tackles -- only linebacker Kwon Alexander had more -- and two crucial fourth-quarter pass deflections.
Maybe playing so many positions is paying off for Jimmie Ward: Consecutive clutch plays, one he outmuscles 6-3, 240 Gerald Everett, the other he beats the much quicker Cooper Kupp. When building an adaptable secondary, this was the 49ers' ultimate goal on film: pic.twitter.com/XVmRbZEjAZ— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) October 14, 2019
"I love his mentality, I love watching him play," Shanahan continued. "He's had some unfortunate things with just not being able to stay healthy, but when he is healthy, he is one of the better players. You guys see what he does. He plays extremely physical out there. He's not scared of anything, he's not scared to fail. He challenges guys in coverage and it's been fun having him out there these two weeks."
For all of the grief Ward has received throughout his career, it was never for a lack of talent.
They say the most important ability is availability, and that's the one area where Ward has significantly struggled, though often due to no fault of his own. He appeared in just 16 of 32 games over the last two seasons combined, and sat out the first four weeks of the current campaign recovering from a broken finger.
Ward was absent from the injury report for the first time all season heading into the matchup with the Rams, so perhaps it's no surprise he came through with his best performance in years, according to Pro Football Focus.
Grades are live!— PFF SF 49ers (@PFF_49ers) October 14, 2019
This week features the return of Jimmie Ward.
This is the highest overall grade Ward has earned since 2016.
Ward also broke up two passes on three targets See the rest at https://t.co/B4Pb8cm4ht! pic.twitter.com/Fg1kNHLcjw
In the two games that Ward has appeared, San Francisco has allowed 10 total points and limited Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff to a combined 21-of-46 passing for 178 yards and zero touchdowns while intercepting two passes. Certainly, that can't all be attributed to Ward's presence, as the defensive line continues to wreak havoc, but his impact can't be discounted altogether.
The 49ers have long maintained that Ward is a key defensive building block -- if he can just stay healthy.
He's healthy now, and clearly, San Francisco is better for it.