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Jimmie Ward Gets First-team CB Reps at 49ers OTAs

Jimmie Ward's positional location was the first of 15 notable practice observations at the San Francisco 49ers first Organized Team Activities session under new coach Chip Kelly.

The third-year defensive back, who has previously lined up primarily as a nickel slot defender and reserve safety, instead saw action on the perimeter as the right cornerback on base downs on Tuesday. Ward was joined by Tramaine Brock as the team's first-team cornerbacks. In nickel situations, Ward slid inside to his familiar role, while Dontae Johnson assumed the perimeter responsibilities as San Francisco's third corner.

"I'm a versatile player," Ward said following the first of nine OTA sessions this offseason. "I was drafted as a DB, so really I'm just showing how valuable I am as a player."

When asked if the change was experimental, Ward explained that it's part of the spring football practice process.

"There are new coaches in and they just want to see everything that I can do," Ward said. "The more you can do the better off you are. Basically, I'm getting reps everywhere, but I'm working more with the corners with the footwork to get me right."

Ward, 24, added that working on the outside during OTAs will help with his press coverage and man-to-man techniques. The 5-foot-11, 193-pound defensive back made his presence known by intercepting a tipped pass during 7-on-7 work.

The team's first-round draft pick from 2014 has no issues with moving to cornerback.

"As long as I'm on the field," he said, "I'm good."

Earlier this offseason, Ward played slot cornerback and safety at the team's pre-draft minicamp. The biggest difference in playing cornerback is the amount of running and attention to detail on technique. Ward added that there is less communication as a cornerback compared to safety, who are the ones to relay coverages across the backend of the defense.

Ward sounded and looked like a player who was relishing the opportunity to do more for his team.

"I think that's exactly why I'm doing it, just to get me more reps on the field in different kinds of packages that we may run," Ward said.

Because Ward made significant strides in his game a season ago, the timing to give him more responsibilities also makes sense.

Ward won the Matt Hazeltine award last year as the franchise's most courageous and inspirational defensive player. Ward played in all 16 games last season for the first time in his young NFL career. He started in eight contests and recorded 65 tackles, plus his first career sack and his first interception, which was returned for a score against the Chicago Bears.

Ward said he took a lot of confidence from how he overcame a nagging foot injury as a rookie to produce his best NFL season as a sophomore.

"Just being able to play elite wide receivers and actually being successful in some of those games really built (my) confidence up," he said. "Coming off my rookie year and being hurt, you kind of lose confidence. But I stayed in the film room and tried to build that back up."

Now, Ward is building more confidence while running stride for stride with the likes of Torrey Smith, Quinton Patton and the other receivers on the 49ers roster.

Ward later voiced confidence in his ability to cover perimeter wideouts around the league.

Facing shifty slot receivers like Tavon Austin of the Los Angeles Rams will do that for you.

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