SANTA CLARA – Jimmie Ward, the 49ers’ first-round draft pick in 2014, spent his first two seasons as the team’s nickel back.
Now, the 49ers’ new coaching staff is investigating the possibility of making him a man for all downs.
When the 49ers opened organized team activities on Tuesday, Ward surprisingly lined up with the first-team defense at right cornerback.
During his first two seasons, Ward was listed as a backup safety. He started the season finale at safety against the St. Louis Rams after an injury forced Jaquiski Tartt out of the lineup.
With safeties Antoine Bethea, Eric Reid and Tartt ahead of him, there is little chance Ward could break through to become an every-down player at safety. But there is more uncertainty for the 49ers at cornerback. Tramaine Brock appears to be in good shape to win one starting spot, but the other position is wide open.
“(During) minicamp I was running safety and nickel,” Ward said. “Now, they switched me. I’m running corner and I’m running nickel. So probably next week, I might be running safety and running nickel.
“I feel like the coaches are doing a really good job. Whatever position I’m going to play during training camp and during game time, I think they’re doing a good job of getting me those reps now.”
Kenneth Acker, Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser and Marcus Cromartie return at cornerback, and the 49ers drafted Will Redmond, Rashard Robinson and Prince Charles Iworah to join the competition.
Now, Ward figures into the competition, too.
After a slow start to the season upon returning from a fractured foot that ended his rookie season, Ward played 71 percent of the 49ers’ defensive snaps over the final 13 games of last season. With the NFL turning more into a passing league, defenses are now typically in their sub packages approximately two-thirds of the time.
New defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil could be looking for a way during the offseason program to get Ward onto the field all the time.
“I think that’s exactly why I’m doing it, just to get me more reps on the field in different types of packages we may run,” Ward said.
“There are new coaches in, so they’re wanting to see everything I can do. The more you can do, the better off you are. Basically, I’m getting reps everywhere, but more with the corners, the footwork to get me right in press and man techniques.”