49ers

Wes Welker outlines plans for 49ers rookies Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd

Wes Welker outlines plans for 49ers rookies Deebo Samuel, Jalen Hurd

Wes Welker has a plan for 49ers rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

Welker has been out of the game as a player for three seasons. But after practices in his first offseason as 49ers wide receivers coach, Welker remains on the field to run with Samuel while he goes through essential extra conditioning.

Samuel, who checked in at 5-foot-11, 214 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, has the body of a running back. Welker wants him to have the body of a slot receiver.

“I think he’s a guy that he can play inside or outside,” Welker said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “He’s definitely a bigger body, but he does have good quickness and speed and all those different things.

“Me and him, we keep on talking. If he does want to play in the slot, he’s going to have to lose a few pounds, so that’s something we’re working on now, and he’s working hard to do it. We’re going to keep on harping on him to do that. He’s had a great attitude about just going to keep working on it.”

Welker said Samuel must drop some pounds to enable him to better maneuver his body, change direction and exhibit more short-area quickness from the slot position.

“I love his size and I love his physicality and everything, but we’re still going to want to be able to use him on some of those plays were you really want him to get in and out of those breaks,” Welker said. “The lighter you are when you’re doing that, the better off you’re going to be.”

The 49ers invested two of their top three draft picks in players for Welker to groom. After selecting Samuel of South Carolina with the No. 36 overall pick, the 49ers came back in the third round to choose Baylor wide receiver Jalen Hurd.

Hurd (6-5, 226) played just one college season at wide receiver after playing his first three seasons at Tennessee as a running back, where he was just 440 yards short of becoming the school’s all-time leading rusher. Hurd opted to transfer after the Tennessee coaching staff declined his request to move from running back to wide receiver.

Hurd has not played wide receiver long enough to develop bad habits, but he is severely lacking in experience. He has sat out the team’s offseason program as he recovers from knee surgery in December.

[RELATED: Wes Welker envisions many 49ers receivers fitting in the slot]

“He’s been a little banged up this spring, so it’s been about the mental part for him,” Welker said of Hurd. “He’s missing out on a lot of reps out there right now, and he’s just got to get his body right and then, on top of that, just staying on top of the playbook because he’s not getting all those reps.

“With his size and athleticism of being able to play running back, being able to play wide receiver, being able to do a lot of different things, that’s a great matchup for us. Losing these reps and the different things we want to do with him kind of sets him back. So he’s got a lot of making up to and a lot of work ahead of him to get caught up.”

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.”

[RELATED: Shanahan cracks jokes about Saleh, Washington]

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.”

49ers players aren't surprised by Robert Saleh's wild sideline passion

49ers players aren't surprised by Robert Saleh's wild sideline passion

SANTA CLARA — It was impossible to turn on a sports television show or log onto social media without seeing defensive coordinator Robert Saleh fist pumping after the 49ers' 20-7 win Sunday over the Rams. 

It might be a new thing for fans to see, but players say he’s been this passionate as long as they’ve known him. 

“That’s probably the first time you guys have caught it, but he’s always losing his mind,” 49ers defensive back K’waun Williams told NBC Sports Bay Area. “It’s normal. We’re used to it by now. He’s always had that great energy.” 

After Sunday’s game in Los Angeles, Saleh admitted that he gets so excited during huge defensive plays that he momentarily loses all sense of time.  

“I’m not going to lie, I black out during those moments,” Saleh said. “I get excited for the guys and their success. When they make big plays, I feel like I’m right there with them. When we fail, I’m right there with them too. So, we’re always together.”

The 49ers defense has dominated through five games. Saleh is now being mentioned as a possible future head coach candidate, when just months ago, football pundits said his job could be in jeopardy.

Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman isn’t surprised in the quick change of public opinion, he’s seen it before. 

“It’s football,” Sherman said. “That’s how quickly things can change. He was a good coach before, even when they were scapegoating him. You can’t scheme for everything. You can’t scheme for injuries and mental mistakes and that’s what was happening out there.” 

In 2018, the 49ers defense had a record-low takeaway percentage and earned reputation of giving up huge chunk plays to opponents. Sherman said that wasn’t because of a change in Saleh, it was just mental mistakes by individuals trying to do too much, trying to save the day. 

“That’s what I appreciate about this year is that all we are doing is what he is telling us to do,”  Sherman said. “We’re just playing the scheme that he calls. If last year everyone would have just played the scheme that he called, we would have been a top-eight defense in terms of yardage gained, red zone percentage and third downs because it’s Saleh. 

“It’s a good scheme and he knows how to call a game." 

[RELATED: Shanahan busts out jokes leading into 49ers vs. Washington]

Maybe it’s a little more maturity from what was a young roster over the past two seasons. Maybe it’s trust that’s grown between the players knowing that everyone will simply take care of their responsibilities instead of trying to be a hero. 

Regardless of what has shifted to change the trajectory of the 49ers defense, the players expect to see that same enthusiastic Saleh losing his mind on the sidelines. 

“That just shows the passion and the love he has for our guys when we’re out there executing which is great," Williams said. “He’s been the same. The scheme is the same. It’s just that everybody is on their job and we’re just clicking on all cylinders. I guess we’re just seeing the dividends payoff now.”