The San Francisco 49ers held their second open OTA practice on Wednesday where the defense put up several noteworthy plays. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh addressed the media following practice and gave updates on his group. Here are five takeaways on health updates, position changes and player evaluations from Saleh.
1. Belief in Ward
Last week, 49ers free safety Jimmie Ward suffered a fractured collarbone. The 49ers re-signed Ward to a one-year deal this past March with the hope that his injury woes were behind him. Earlier this offseason, both Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch reiterated their faith in Ward. Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman also recently praised Ward’s resilience. Saleh adds to the list of people who are confident in Ward’s potential, despite this most recent setback.
“It was a very unfortunate thing. If he had pads on, it probably wouldn’t have happened,” Saleh said. “There’s always risk-reward. When you see Jimmie play, you see his personality, you see his leadership skills, his work ethic. If you’re ever going to take a risk on somebody, he’s the guy. I have faith that he’s going to stay healthy this season, I do. You guys are probably looking at me like I’m crazy, but something good’s about to happen for him, and it’s going to be (in) 2019.”
2. Verrett’s Return
The 49ers are hopeful Jason Verrett can make a strong return following his Achilles tear in 2018. Despite a trio of leg injuries that have marred his NFL career, the 49ers sought after Verrett this offseason with the hopes he can regain his Pro Bowl form. He remains sidelined during OTAs, however he is expected to make his debut during training camp later this summer.
“When Verrett’s heathy, no different than Jimmie, he’s one of the top 20 corners in all of football. I mean the guy’s special,” Saleh said. “So, he’ll be able to come into that. He’s going to insert himself into the lineup come training camp, and there’s no doubt he’s going to look good. His mindset, the way he carries himself, his work ethic out there with the trainers, the questions he asks in meeting rooms, kind of just his overall presence in the building has been really special. I’m excited to see him work, so it’s going to be fun.”
3. Depth in the Secondary
One of the biggest storylines this offseason was the 49ers changes, or lack there of, in the secondary. San Francisco’s lone additions included Verrett in free agency and rookie cornerback Tim Harris in the sixth round of the draft. San Francisco forced just seven turnovers in 2018, including a league-low two interceptions. The 49ers have reiterated their belief in the players already in the building.
“You know, the health is always the big deal. I’ll start with Sherm (Richard Sherman) coming back with having now been a full two years removed from his Achilles,” Saleh said. "Spoon (Ahkello Witherspoon) has come with a renewed mindset and he’s looking like the person that we were having a lot of faith in after the first half of his rookie year. Then you’ve got guys who are out there competing. You’ve got Verrett, who’s just champing at the bit to come in, and I could go through, (Greg) Mabin, all of them. It’s an exciting group to work with if we can stay healthy.
“I think outside our nickel spot, K’Waun (Williams) is good. At safety, (Jaquiski) Tartt and Jimmie (Ward), Marcell (Harris), A.C. (Adrian Colbert), (Antone) Exum, I’m sure I’m missing somebody, but it’s a really talented group. There’s a lot of natural competition at those spots. It’s unfortunate what happened to Jimmie, but we have a lot of confidence in that group because it really is a talented group. It’s just got to stay healthy.”
4. Shift in the Secondary
When the 49ers drafted Tarvarius Moore in 2018, they envisioned the former Southern Miss safety transitioning into an NFL cornerback. However, partially due to the current injury situation with Ward and D.J. Reed, Moore has found himself back at his natural position. Saleh added there has been no firm decision on where Moore will play in 2019, but he suggested free safety could be a full-time move depending on his performance.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to training camp,” Saleh said. “Right now, with all the injuries and all the different lineups with all the guys missing, we’re trying to make sure that everybody’s getting reps. That’s something that we loved about Tarvarius Moore is that we drafted him knowing that he’s got great versatility where he could play corner and safety. Him being back there at safety for these OTAs, if he lights it up, we’ll see it.”
5. No Worries Regarding Bosa
San Francisco’s first round pick only saw one full practice of OTAs prior to suffering from a low-grade hamstring strain. The 49ers announced last week that Nick Bosa would miss the remainder of the offseason workout program, but they are optimistic the edge rusher will return by training camp in late-July. Despite missing the physical reps, Saleh believes Bosa will have no problem getting back up to speed over the next few months.
“You’d love for him to be out there just so he can go through and get his reps,” Saleh said of Bosa. “For those guys, maybe I underscore the D-Line every once in a while, but it’s just the mindset and all that stuff that he’s missing, just getting his legs under him. He hasn’t played football in a year. To get his sea legs back, if you will. That’s what I feel like he’s missing, but I’m not worried about him being able to catch up.”