A year ago around this time, the San Francisco 49ers had a rookie safety face off against the prolific Denver Broncos offense.
“I mean if there’s any way to get introduced into the league, it’s to play against Peyton Manning and his receiving corps," said Reid after the 49ers 34-0 loss to the visiting Broncos. "I think (Ward) learned a lot today, and I think he’s going to watch that tape and improve from that too.”
That's how the defense is looking at its dissapointing debut at Levi's® Stadium: an opportunity to improve.
Ward, for one, was challenged with covering Wes Welker in the slot while watching the eyes of Manning. These are two of the NFL's best at their positions.
"Very smart player," Ward, who is competing for the nickel cornerback spot, said of Manning. "I feel like he's an extra coach on the field for them.
"He switched the play a couple of times. Something he saw in the office. Somebody gave it away, I don't know what."
"I was looking him in his eyes (thinking), 'I get to play against this guy," the first-round draft pick said. "Going against (Manning) and Wes Welker is going to get me better."
So is his secondary coach, Ed Donatell, who asks Ward two questions on a daily basis during training camp.
Where's your leverage? Where's your help?
"That really helped me in this game," Ward said, "to be in the right (spot) and make tackles, too."
The Northern Illinois product recorded a game-high seven stops from his nickel spot before shifting over to safety after Reid exited.
"You just have to know where your help is at," Ward said. "They did one route where a guy was wide open, a 'Z' (wide receiver)."
Ward said reviewing the film would tell him how the "rub routes" of Welker and his fellow pass-catchers left them so open so often.
After all, Manning and other Broncos passers combined for 270 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
“From the front seven to the secondary, I think we just need to make more plays," Reid, now a relative veteran, said. "The opportunities are there.
"I think it was good for us to see that in the preseason that way we can prepare for it more when the regular season gets here. It’s good for conditioning as well. We haven’t been practicing at that pace, I don’t think, so maybe we’ll pick up practice a little bit too.”
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