He did what most rookies do before their first games in the National Football League: He battled anxiety.
“I wouldn’t say nervous,” the San Francisco 49ers first-round draft pick said in the visiting locker room inside of M&T Bank Stadium. “The better word I’m looking for is anxious. I wanted to see what everybody can do in the NFL, this is the next level.”
So how did Ward handle himself in his professional debut, a 23-3 loss to the Ravens?
Ward lined up as the starting nickel cornerback, a position the 49ers envisioned for the Northern Illinois safety when they selected him 30th overall.
“I thought he was doing what we’ve been seeing in practice,” Jim Harbaugh said. “He was aggressive. He was flying around. I think he’s in good shape.”
The emphasis on Ward’s stamina is worth dissecting. The rookie defensive back suffered a foot injury prior to the draft, and it kept him off the field for offseason workouts. Ward made his practice debut on the first day of training camp – and he picked off
Ward has been able to get himself ready for action and by all accounts, he’s acclimated himself well to the pro game.
As for Ward’s first NFL action, the rookie recorded two tackles and a pass breakup. He also played as a gunner on punt return and as a strong safety with the second-team defense.
“That was a big adjustment,” Ward said of his versatile role against the Ravens. “There were certain situations I had to think about, like taking two (players) on one as a gunner. I had to know where (the number three receiver) was at, as a nickel and at safety. There was a lot of stuff running through my mind, but I’ve been doing a lot of film study and have been with (49ers secondary) Coach (Donatell) a lot, so that really helped me out, too.”
San Francisco’s first rounder will take a great deal of confidence from his experience in Baltimore. He knows he can play with the best players in the world. Now it’s about refining his technique and learning from his game tape.
The first preseason experience will only serve him well going into the 49ers upcoming home game against the Denver Broncos at Levi’s® Stadium on Aug. 17.
“I think it’ll make it way easier,” Ward said. “Coming here to play against the Ravens, a good team, I think that’ll help me out. They had a really good slot (receiver) that I went against and hopefully it’ll show up in the next game.”
Ward broke up a pass intended for Jacoby Jones, the receiver he mentioned. After the game, Ward said he’s looking forward to facing Jones and other Baltimore receivers at the 49ers-Ravens joint practices that will take place Saturday through Monday.
“I feel like everybody has to be under control,” Ward said, “but everybody is going to compete because you want to win. It’s going to be like a game all over.”
- READ: 49ers Fall in Preseason Opener
- READ: Hyde, Dial Shine in Debuts
- READ: Kaepernick Reviews Opening Drive
- READ: Cook Delivers Strong Performance
- READ: Ward Starts at Nickel Cornerback
- WATCH: Game Highlights
- WATCH: Who Stood Out in Baltimore
- WATCH: Kaepernick Impressed by Hyde
- WATCH: Willis Gives Pregame Speech
- WATCH: Harbaugh Sees Positives
- VIEW: 49ers Square Off Against Ravens