ORLANDO, Fla. – When defensive back Jimmie Ward remained on the 49ers’ roster on the first day of the new league year earlier this month, his $8.5 million salary became fully guaranteed.
His status on the team is certain. Where he ultimately lines up is not.
The 49ers will use four weeks of practices in May and June to determine where Ward will line up when the club reports back this summer for training camp, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings.
“We know he’s capable of starting in a number of spots,” Shanahan said. “I also know he gives us depth at a number of spots
“I think Jimmie is one of the very important guys on the team because I think he’s good enough to start at five different spots, and I also think he’s good enough to be the second-best at five different spots. Jimmie is going to play for us this year. I can’t say exactly where. I say that as a compliment because he’s good at a lot of different spots.”
Adrian Colbert started six games at free safety last season as a rookie. He will open the offseason with the first unit, with Jaquiski Tartt lining up at strong safety. Ahkello Witherspoon will start at one cornerback position. Ward will handle the duties on the other side, taking the spot Richard Sherman is expected to fill during the regular season. Sherman is not expected to participate in the offseason program as he returns from separate surgeries to repair a torn Achilles and remove bone spurs.
Ward has played all 16 games just once in his first four seasons after the 49ers selected him in the first round of the 2014 draft. His durability has been a concern.
“When you break your forearm playing football, it’s hard for me to say you’re injury-prone,” Shanahan said. “He plays physical. That’s what he did last year. I love how the guy plays, the way he played safety for us last year, it was fun to watch. He plays the exact way we want a guy to play.
“If he can put a full year together and stay healthy, everybody will appreciate the kind of player he is.”
After the offseason program, Shanahan said the 49ers will reconsider their lineup in the defensive backfield with the additions of Sherman and any rookies, as well as figuring out at which position Ward best serves the team.