Not a bad first day for the San Francisco 49ers first-round draft pick.
About an hour or so into his first on-field work of the summer at training camp, Jimmie Ward showed exactly why he was the 30th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Ward, who had missed OTAs and minicamps due to a foot fracture, saw an opportunity in a 7-on-7 passing drill and seized it immediately when a deflected pass landed nearby.
A Colin Kaepernick throw bounced off the hands of wide receiver Chuck Jacobs and stayed in the air long enough for Ward to swoop in for an impressive diving interception.
Ward described it this way to reporters after practice: “I was in nickel (coverage), and I had inside help. I saw the linebacker take the number two (wide receiver). It was a double-slant. (Cornerback) Chris Cook made a good play on the ball, and it was tipped, and I dove and caught it.”
It was the first of two Kaepernick interceptions on the day. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith later cut off running back Kendall Hunter to nab a takeaway during a later 7-on-7 period.
Kaepernick, even with the two takeaways, had his share of quality throws on the day. Ward would later play as second-team strong safety for most of the team periods.
Offensive Play of the Day
Vernon Davis returned to training camp as the team’s top tight end. But the veteran’s presence didn’t disrupt the strides of second-year tight end Vance McDonald.
In the first team period of the day, McDonald leaped in the air to catch a high pass from Kaepernick over the tight coverage of new strong safety Antoine Bethea.
It was the type of reception that instantly caused a roar from the players on the field.
Defensive Play of the Day
Ward’s interception was surely a memorable moment for his first ever training camp practice. But the Northern Illinois product got his day started with solid reps in one-on-one drills against San Francisco’s deep group of receivers.
Ward showed no fear against the likes of Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson. When it was the rookie’s turn to face Johnson, Ward quickly beat the veteran receiver to the inside and broke up a slant pass thrown by Kaepernick.
The pass breakup was a prelude to the impressive interception.
“It was a good first day," Ward said. "I’m with the twos, so I’m just trying to fit in any way I can.”
Defensive tackle Justin Smith (shoulder) and offensive tackle Anthony Davis (shoulder) did not practice. They worked out on the turf field and later watched the final team periods.
Members of the PUP (physically unable to perform) list did not practice. The group includes linebacker NaVorro Bowman (knee), tight end Garrett Celek (back), nose Ian Williams (leg) linebacker Aaron Lynch (hamstring) and defensive tackle Kaleb Ramsey.
NFI (non-football injury) list members also were not practicing. The group included wide receiver Bruce Ellington (ankle), running back Marcus Lattimore (hamstring, knee), center Marcus Martin (ankle), fullback Trey Millard (knee), cornerback Keith Reaser (knee) and guard Brandon Thomas (knee).
-Running back LaMichael James and wide receiver Devon Wylie handled all of the punt return duties on a windy Santa Clara day.
-Crabtree joined Anquan Boldin, Brandon Lloyd and Johnson for a red-zone pass-and-catch period with Kaepernick, Gabbert and McLeod Bethel-Thompson. The most unique sight was Crabtree wearing a red-hooded sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off during the drill. He wore the hood while catching passes.
-Quarterback intern coach, George Whitfield Jr., worked with undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner during the special teams period. Faulkner worked on body mechanics, including a handful of throws with his left arm completely by his side.
-Chris Culliver lined up with the first-team defense at left cornerback and showed solid coverage skills. The fourth-year defender missed the ’13 season due to a torn ACL at last year’s camp.
-Other starting lineup notes included Joe Looney at right guard for Alex Boone and Jonathan Martin at right tackle for Anthony Davis.
-Former defensive tackle Will Tukuafu, who now only plays fullback, caught two passes on the day.
-Lloyd caught the longest ball of the day, a 60-yard touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert during 11-on-11 work. The reserve defensive unit was sucked in by a play-action fake, allowing Gabbert to uncork a perfect deep ball into the waiting arms of the veteran receiver. Safety D.J. Campbell was closest to Lloyd at the time of the reception.